Peace & quiet

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Hollywood Pool Club – I took these pictures during our time at anchor just off Santorini in Greece. The bulk of the passengers were still ashore so Maureen & I had the place mainly to ourselves. If you look closely at the green figures above, you can see someone hiding as I took the picture.

DSC08678rQuiet and peaceful and only at night does it come alive as a nightclub. The roof over the pool keeps the temperature steady, regardless of the outside temperature.

DSC08679rIn addition to the swimming pool there are hot tubs, and quiet spots over looking the ocean.

DSC08681r Peace & quiet

DSC08682rThere is also a bar, but most people just sat & read during the day.

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If you wish to watch TV in a quiet private alcove – you are able to pull a curtain over to make it more private.
Picture below is the other end of the same private alcove.

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Maureen tried different sized xylophones to practise her musical talent.

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Being tone deaf, I was more interested in a game of chess.

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Cane basket chairs and a good book . . .

DSC08692rOr one could sit just outside to add to the suntan – waiter service for a cold beer, I didn’t want to break out in to a sweat after all . . .

DSC08556rFor those who trusted the ‘see through’ floors (decks) on the Skywalk, you could watch the water flow under your feet. Your brain told you that it would be safe, but many still walked with one foot on each side of the reinforced glass area.

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The main pool area was always popular, and during an Australian sporting match that was broadcast via satellite from Australia, many passengers just floated in the pool with drinks in hand, and watched & listened to the large screen broadcast. For such a large screen I didn’t notice any problems due to sunlight or distortion. Obviously the sound was quite loud, but once we moved from the pool area it fell away and didn’t bother us.

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Being a shore day the pool was relatively empty.

DSC09248rWhen we sailed close to the Indian coast, on our way to Cochin (Kochi), we experienced a heavy downpour, due to it being the monsoon season, which cleared everyone from the pool area.
Odd really that people left the pool because they were getting wet due to the rain . . . :-o)

 

Footsteps of Seven Pillars

DSC08824rSunrise over Aqaba

DSC08827rIn the distance Israel, behind us Saudi Arabia, and further to the left of Israel is Egypt as we came alongside Aqaba.

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Aqaba is in the Kingdom of Jordon, and Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein is their King, having become King on the death of his father, King Hussein, in 1999.

Princess Cruises offered a number of shore excursion in and around Aqaba, from scuba diving in the warm waters of the gulf, to an all day tour to Petra, which would be over nine hours. Knowing our limitations and having read about some of the problems due to the heat of visiting Petra, we chose to do the shorter tour of Wadi Rum, which was about five hours.
Wadi Rum is also known as The Valley of the Moon, and considering the next suburb of where we live in Sydney is called Jannali, which is an Aboriginal name for Place of the Moon, our choice was obvious.
Wadi means ‘valley’ & Rum mean ‘elevated’.

Wadi Rum was the area where the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, with Peter O’Toole, was partially made, as well as the recent film ‘The Martian’ with Mat Damon.

For me, the dominant feel of Wadi Rum was Lawrence of Arabia – I’d seen the film and read of his exploits.

lawrence-of-arabiaThomas Edward Lawrence, 1880 – 1935

DSC08838rIt wasn’t long after we had driven out of Aqaba that we came across camels.

DSC08839rWe stopped at a small railways station for a ‘photo op’ and the single line reminded me of the film, and when I turned around . . . the train engine fitted the scene, because it was used in the film.

DSC08840rc  if Peter O’Toole had stood on the roof of the train I wouldn’t have been surprised.

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As I took the photograph of the engine I thought the area was deserted, until I turned and saw a modern train coming towards me – it was a working line!

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DSC08847r.jpg  It was real, not a film set.

DSC08852rThe meeting area for our desert transport was more upmarket than the railway station, with a few shops and toilet facilities. The large rock face in the background is called the Seven Pillars, which was the inspirational name that Lawrence used when he wrote The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.

DSC08854rNothing flash about our desert transport – the utes made the Aussie’s feel at home. I whispered to Maureen to grab one with a roof covering, how ever flimsy, to keep us in the shade. Each truck carried six passengers in the back – hanging on was the object of the trip once the truck started to move.

DSC08856rIf I’d have heard John Wayne shouting ‘Head ’em up move ’em out’ I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The Seven Pillars right in front of us.

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We are off – how fortunate that we had picked the lead truck so that we didn’t have to worry about sand in our wake.

DSC08862rThe scenery was spectacular as we bounced over the ground – they didn’t have any roads across the desert.

DSC08870rcWe reached a sand hill and were told that if we climbed the hill the views would be magnificent.

DSC08872rIt didn’t look all that hard so I started to climb, Maureen stayed with the trucks.

DSC08876rIn the very soft sand each foot step was energy sapping – and my new pacemaker started to work overtime.

DSC08877rNearing the top – gasp, gasp, keep pumping  . . .

DSC08879rcMade it ! and the driver was correct the views were just great.

DSC08880r Looking back to our convoy of trucks.

DSC08881rI tried to capture the distances and the depth of beauty – the isolation, the quiet and as Lawrence himself said, the desert is clean.
Gazing across the desert reminded me of the book ‘The Phantom Major’ by Virginia Cowles, about the creation of the British SAS during WW2 and how the Long Range Desert group ferried the SAS to their targets. Maureen’s uncle was a member of the LRDG, so our desert ride gave us a very small idea of what he experienced. At least nobody was trying to kill us – well, not with bullets.

DSC08885rOff again until we came to a camp with camels. The offer being USD $15 per person to ride a camel to the next stop (about twenty minutes by camel). Quiet a few took them up on the camel owner’s offer.

DSC08892r        The rest of us climbed back in to our trucks for a more ‘comfortable’ ride.

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I couldn’t stop taking photographs as we bounced along.

DSC08898rA cup of tea at a Bedouin camp – as you see the latest addition to the Bedouin camel is blue (on the right of the picture).

DSC08900r  Small glasses of tea were offered – brewed using the open fire. Cardamom seeds were added to the drink after it had been brewed. The seed gave the drink a distinctive taste which was not unpleasant. Of course they had various articles for sale.

DSC08903rcOutside carved in to a rock was a sculpture of the King of Jordon and also Lawrence.

DSC08906rI don’t think the artist had seen Lawrence . . .

DSC08907rThe rest of our group arrived safely and the camel handler started back for the next load of tourists.
Once we were all together and the ‘camel’ group had tried the tea we were off again at high speed so fast that as we shot over to tops of sand hills we were nearly airborne. It was quite exciting as long as you didn’t think of H & S, lack of seatbelts, lousy springs and teeth shattering landings, and of course there wasn’t anyway that I could take photographs. Both hands were busy being ‘white knuckles’ as we hung on to our truck.

DSC08913rBack on the flat ground again and we suddenly came to a tent hotel – welcome, cold drinks, tea, biscuits, and local music.

DSC08914rDining area

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Lights for an evening show.

DSC08919rBackground Arabic music.

The whole experience was stimulating and enjoyable, and I am glad we picked the five hour tour because that was enough for us with the heat and the ‘bounce’.

As much as I enjoyed the film Lawrence of Arabia the actual attack on Aqaba is – to be kind, artistic licence – because the attack shown in the film is untrue.

The main battle for Aqaba took place at a small block house called  Abu al Lasan, which is between Aqaba and the town of Ma’an. The Arabs captured it, and few days later the Turks recaptured the blockhouse.
Later the Turks attacked an Arab camp and killed several Arabs.
Auda abu Tayi heard of the Turkish attack on the Arab camp and lead his own attack against the Turks. Lawrence was with him during this attack.
The attack was a success and three hundred Turkish soldiers were killed before Auda could control his troops. A further three hundred Turks were captured. The Arabs lost two killed and a few wounded.

While this battle was going on the Royal Navy arrived off Aqaba and began to shell the town.

A combined  force of about five thousand, which included the troops under Auda abu Tayi (leader of part of the Howett tribe)  &  Sherif Nasir (Faisal’s cousin), again with Lawrence advising, infiltrated the defence lines of the Turks around Aqaba, and approached the gates of the town, at which point the garrison surrendered without a struggle.

Regardless of the true battle, I do like the film’s attack of Aqaba, even if it was made in a Spanish riverbed, rather than Wadi Rum. The town of Aqaba, shown in the film, was recreated by the film company exactly as Aqaba was in 1916 – 300 buildings, the army camp, including parade ground, a quarter of mile long sea wall, etc all of the ‘real’ towns that were considered were too ‘modern’ for 1916.

If you get a chance to visit Jordon, visit Wadi Rum.

 

Suez Canal Transit

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We entered the Suez Canal at first light, and with camera in hand I started photographing our transit.
The canal had been built by Ferdinand de Lesseps between 1859 and 1869, and was opened in 1869.

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The Egyptian / French plan for the opening was to allow the Imperial Yacht L’Aigle, with the French Empress, Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III,

Eugénieas guest of honour on board, to be the first vessel to transit the canal.

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Imperial Yacht L’Aigle

Delta
The second vessel was to be the P & O liner Delta, which was full of society people and passengers from Great Britain.
Unfortunately for the French & the Egyptians a British Royal Navy vessel HMS Newport,

300px-S_S_Yacht_BlencathraThe picture shows her later in her life.

captained by George Nares, was the first vessel to transit the canal. Captain Nares on the night before the canal was to open, navigated his ship in the dark, and without lights,  through the various anchored vessels waiting to enter the canal at daylight, and positioned his vessel in front of the French Imperial Yacht in such a way that HMS Newport could not be passed.

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 Admiral Sir George Nares, 1831 – 1915

When dawn broke the French and Egyptians were quite ‘upset’ (to say the least) at the position of the Royal Navy vessel..
Captain Nares was reprimanded by London, but unofficially congratulated by the Admiralty. He rose to the rank of Vice Admiral later in life.

In 1875 the Khedive of Egypt (ruler of Egypt as Viceroy, under the Sultan of Turkey) offered nearly half the shares in the canal for sale.
The PM of Great Britain, Benjamin Disraeli, bought them for Great Britain against the advice of his senior ministers, but with the support of Queen Victoria, because he wanted to control access to India and the Empire East of Suez.
The cost at the time was £4 million, and the canal remained under British control until Nasser nationalised it in 1956, although there was a lease on the canal, given to Ferdinand de Lesseps, for 99 years, which would end in 1968.

The view from the Wake Bar from the Majestic Princess’ stern area was of green and pleasant land on the starboard Egyptian side, but on the other side, a desert that has been fought over for generations, from Lawrence of Arabia in WW1, to the Israelis in recent years.

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The Majestic Princess being a passenger ship on her ‘maiden’ voyage to China, was given the lead position in the southbound convoy. You can just see the next ship, which is a black dot well astern of us. The tug just astern of us followed in our wake all the way through the canal – I presume ‘just in case ‘ anything went wrong.

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It was far more pleasant to be a passenger, when transiting the Suez Canal this time, than a deck officer on the bridge of a cargo ship, which I was in the mid 1960’s. The guy in the red shirt is Will, our New Zealand friend who was on the Conway with me from 1960 to ’62. Will has memories of being blockaded in the canal during the Six Day War in 1967.

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The Mubarak Peace bridge across the troubled waters of the canal. The bridge was built with the help of the Japanese government and opened in 2001. The height of the two main pylons support the span at 154 mtrs (505 feet) above the water allowing for a clearance under the bridge of 70 mtrs, so the largest any vessel can be is 68 mtrs above the water level.

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Some very nice-looking homes on the starboard side of the canal as we approached the town of Ismailia.

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 Car ferry waiting for us to pass – plenty of horns sounding and much waving of arms from those on land as well as the passengers onboard.

Shortly after we entered Timsah Lake, which appeared to be a holiday area.

DSC08753rBeach front of the Mecure Hotel

DSC08752rI saw the above blue building in the distance, but have not be able to find out what it is . . .

DSC08757rOn our port side a striking difference to the holiday feel of Timsah Lake.

The original canal was 164 km long, and over time with various expansions became 193 km long, and its depth grew from 8 meters to 24 meters. Even with these expansions it was realised that a second canal or further expansion would be required. Under the old system ships would anchor in the Bitter Lakes and wait until the opposite convoy had passed before continuing their transit. In certain areas of the canal, when I used to sail between Asia & Europe in the 60’s, we used to tie up alongside the canal bank in wider areas of the canal, to allow the opposite convoy, north or south bound, to pass.
The new part of the canal, which is 35 kms long, took just a year to build, see the right hand picture

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The occasional cut over, but I should think for only small craft.

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Warship passing from the Bitter Lakes to the Mediterranean via the new expansion – she didn’t fly a flag of nationality that I could see, so I presume she was Egyptian, with the canal being Egyptian water.

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Ships that pass in the day, as we entered the Bitter Lakes – the container ship is sailing north in the ‘new’ canal.

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The Bitter Lakes – there are two linked to the canal, the Great Bitter Lake and the Small Bitter Lake. Before the canal was opened in 1869 there used to be a dry salt valley, which after the canal was opened became the Bitter lakes – the valley flooded. The ‘lake’ is used as a passing area for the north & south bound convoys. When I was at sea we would anchor in the lakes while waiting for our convoy to be ready to resume the transit.

This time Majestic Princess just steamed very slowly passed the various waiting ships.

The water flows freely between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean and many Red Sea creatures have migrated to the Mediterranean and colonised their new home. North of the Bitter Lakes the water flows with the seasons – it flows northwards in winter and southwards in the summer months. South of the Bitter Lakes the water is tidal and influenced by the tidal flow of the Red Sea. Due to the salt in the original valley, the salinity of the Bitter Lakes is very high, about twice as high as normal sea water.

DSC08773rDuring the Six Day War in 1967 the canal was closed and fifteen ships were locked in the Bitter Lakes. They became known as the Yellow Fleet because of the sand blown from the desert that covered their decks in yellow sand. The crews cooperated with each other and created their own post office and stamp. The Yellow Fleet stamps have become a collector’s item. The canal didn’t reopen until 1975.

Our friend from NZ, Will, spent some time in a Blue Star ship, Scottish Star, marooned in the Bitter Lakes.

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I was looking for an example of the stamps used by the Yellow Fleet and came across this envelope, which is addressed to a home in Birkenhead (UK). The address is quite close to where I used to live in Tranmere.

At 144,212 gross tonnes the Majestic Princess was not the largest passenger ship to transit the canal – this honour is held by Quantum of the Seas at 167,800 gross tonnes when she transited the canal in 2015.

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Heading northwards . . . . .fully loaded.

DSC08783rMore and more sand on the port side . . . .

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Trucks waiting for the ferry to cross the canal . . . I think the ferry only accepted two at a time.

DSC08793rThe queue for the ferry went for quite a long way.

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The southern end of the canal is quite near – Port Tewfik – which used to be spelt Taufiq in the 60’s.

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Port Tewfik at the Southern end of the canal as we passed the final point and entered the Red Sea.

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The pilot has left us – full ahead in to the Red Sea.

Edible Art

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I’m sure half the crew working in the galley are frustrated artists of one kind or another.

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We saw their work when on a galley tour, but on certain days they produced fancy cakes.

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Not having sweet tooth, I was happy to photograph, but not to eat, because once I started to eat I was bothered that I might not stop . . .

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Someone had already started . . .

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Fortunately, I managed a few pictures before the cakes were all eaten . . .

DSC09417rA fresh lot of cakes came out . . . along with

DSC09418rChocolate fountain.

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More and more came out  . .

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I enjoyed window shopping, but not eating, because I prefer a non-sweet bitter taste . . .

beerThe ship also carried Newcastle Brown ale on tap . . . a well balanced meal is a glass in each hand – Boddington & Newcastle ale.

 

F & B

Food & Beverage always helps to make a holiday.

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Dining in the Symphony Dining room – breakfast, lunch or dinner. Maureen and I started having our breakfast in the restaurant, but ended up on deck sixteen at World Fresh Marketplace – the choice was larger, but each evening we had our dinner in the Symphony restaurant.

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Breakfast in the World Fresh Marketplace, which was very good with a huge choice of food from around the world. On one side, we had a darker décor (see above pic) and on the other side of the ship we had a lighter décor. (see pic below)

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The darker area concentrated on hot dishes – roasts, curries, Chinese spicy dishes, and the lighter area on ‘cool’ dishes – salads, puddings, cakes etc. It was a joy to wander around and check all the dishes, which for me made choosing what to eat, without overeating, the decision of the day.

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A colourful spread of puddings, jellies and sweets, some sugar free, others gluten free, they did their best to satisfy as many people as possible.

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A wide choice of food from around the world – hot or cold.

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Smoked salmon for breakfast or lunch . . . just help yourself.

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I had read comments on the lack of bars for such a large vessel, and the difference in the western and Chinese culture of visiting bars. As soon as we had settled in we investigated which bar was going to be our favourite. The above picture shows Bellini’s, which concentrates on Champagne.

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Or was it the Fountain Pool Bar, near the pool area.

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Seaview Bar near the pool was popular, particularly on hot days.

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Sitting at the bar we could watch the passing desert as we moved gently along the Suez Canal.

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For those who are TT, a fruit and veg bar- drinks produced by blending / crushing various fruits & vegetables.
But, for us The Piazza Bar replaced the Crooner’s Bar on other ships.

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Maureen & our friends at the Piazza Bar for a pre-dinner drink.

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Same bar area of the Piazza bar

This bar was close to the main ‘entertaining’ area of the dance floor, which was also used as a centre of offbeat entertaining.

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Specialty acts

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Jazz band

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The female acrobat returned a few nights later with a double wheel.

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Plus of course we could dance or in my case crush Maureen’s feet.

Another popular bar was the Wake Bar

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This was a favourite place for many to have their breakfast – the World Fresh Market was just for’d of the Wake Bar, and the day could start with a Bloody Mary and fried eggs if this was to your liking.
There was a ‘day starter’ menu available at the bar if you wished for a breakfast cocktail. This menu changed to lunchtime cocktail menus around 11.00 am.

Additional bars were Crown Grill (part of a small restaurant) –

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and there was a bar inside the casino, which we didn’t use.

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I bet (excuse the pun) the casino will be popular with the Chinese during the Majestic Princess’ year long China contract.

 

Initial impressions

DSC08510rOur cabin (or to be PC our stateroom)

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The balcony was a decent size, with a table, two chairs and two foot stools.

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The Atrium or Piazza as it is called in this class of ship, covered three decks in the centre of the vessel.

Each early evening a female string quartet,

DSC08809ror a small jazz band

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or a piano player

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would supply background music.

One afternoon we had four players from the Chinese National Orchestra, who played a short piece to advertise their evening performances.

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On our second evening, while sailing between Naples and Santorini it was the first of four formal nights anticipated for the twenty-eight day cruise. This first formal evening was the evening when the Master and his senior staff were presented to the passengers, over drinks of course!

DSC08580rThe Italian Master had been in command for the past seven months during the fitting out procedure and the first few weeks cruising around the Mediterranean. He left the ship for home leave when we arrived in Dubai, and was replaced by a British Master.

DSC08574rThe Staff Captain was British, but he did not take over command in Dubai.
All the senior people, which included engineers, doctor, hotel staff, chefs, were presented to the passengers.

DSC08571rThe Champaign fountain had been built during the afternoon and I was pleased that the sea was calm . . .

DSC08581rThe maître d’ using two more bottles of Champaign for the trickle down fountain. Free welcome aboard drinks for all . . . . . . .
Most people dressed accordingly for a formal evening – dinner or dark suits, and the ladies in evening dresses.

DSC08573rMaureen (my wife) on the left – Will Wood from New Zealand, his wife Mei has yet to arrive, John & Fiona Cuthbert on the right. Both Will & John have recently retired after a life time at sea – both held command.
The badge on John’s cummerbund was presented to him by the officers of HMS Northumberland, during his and HMS Northumberland’s time in the Falkland Islands. John came from the Newcastle area in the UK.
I booked Maureen & I on the cruise and mentioned this to Will, who asked if he and his wife Mei, could come along, which pleased me greatly. We then ‘ganged’ up and persuaded John, who still lives in the UK to also join us.
The three of us joined HMS Conway together in September 1960, and have kept in touch off and on during the last fifty-seven years, so it was really great to meet up once again for the cruise to Singapore. A bit of a busman’s holiday for Will & John.

Knowing that we would have four ‘formal’ evenings I splashed out and bought a new suit – the original man in black. It was an ordinary suit because I no longer attend functions that require a dinner suit (not since the early 1980’s),

DSC08584rbut I knew that I would blend in with a plain black suit.

On unpacking the suit in our hotel in Civitavecchia, to hang it and avoid creases, I found out that I had only packed the jacket. The suit was in a special carry bag and I’d forgotten that the pants had been sent away for a small alteration, and on their return I had left them on their own hanger instead of under the jacket . . . .
I visited every possible shop in Civitavecchia looking for a pair of black pants. They had black pants, but not my size.
Fortunately during our ‘walk about’ in Naples we passed a clothing store and I was able to buy a pair that matched the black of the jacket. . . . an expensive mistake, but I now have an extra pair of pants that matches the suit.

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A small shop near the above location saved the day for me.

Civitavecchia – the seaport for Rome

Civitavecchia pronounced ch-ee-v-ee-t-aa-v-EH-k-k-ee-aa

On arrival at Hotel Traghetto, which is a family run hotel,  we were shown to our room on the second floor. The room boasted a small balcony, which we didn’t use.
I’d booked us for three nights, but two days, just incase anything happened to our luggage. Having seen two ladies distressed over missing airline bags when joining a cruise ship a couple of years ago, I didn’t want to leave Italy for a 28 day cruise without our bags!
The hotel cost was not all that great in the scheme of thing, (3 * hotel), but it gave me peace of mind. As it happened everything went to plan and we were able to enjoy a couple of days sight seeing.
We were very happy with the hotel and the friendly English speaking staff. It was clean, convenient for the port, yet close enough to the town centre that we could walk to the main areas within ten minutes.
DSC08449rOur room – a double bed and two single beds, which allowed us to spread out.
The following morning we decided to visit the local market –

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Always pleasant to scan the food of the locals to see what they have but you don’t.
The market also had a fish section, which is not my favourite area, but had to photograph the crustaceans, shown below, because I didn’t have any idea what they were, other than some form of shell fish. They seemed popular with the locals.

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The cheese section was attractive, but the cheeses seemed to all look alike – I prefer an English cheese display with the white of Cheshire cheese, the yellow of Cheddar, the off white of Shropshire Blue, the red of Derby cheese etc.

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Although it was not summer the weather was very kind to us with a blue sky and enough heat in the sun for me to wear shorts.

DSC08456rLooking towards Fort Michelangelo from along the sea front.

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DSC08457rYou’d think that we had the place to ourselves but there were enough people around that we didn’t feel lonely.

DSC08459rI had a feeling that this sun bather must be British  . . . he could well have been lonely.

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A cold beer for me and a soft drink for Maureen over looking the water – what more could you want – it was quite hot in the sun.

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Evening meal once again overlooking the water – this area was full of life and I had to wait for a quiet moment to take the picture – without the passing crowds.

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The following day we checked the harbour on the off chance that our ‘ship had come in . . .’  it hadn’t, but the short holiday made us think that ‘our ship had come in . . ‘

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An evening stroll along the prom after dinner – how British can two ex POMs be . . .

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The Majestic Princess had arrived, and a free shuttle, supplied by the town, ferried us from outside our hotel to the ship. I clicked the above picture over the driver’s shoulder.

Our twenty eight day cruise was about to begin. . . . .