|19/10/2014||Southampton||-||On board at 2:30 pm|
|20/10/2014||Antwerp||Ghent & Belgian Chocolates||Sunny afternoon|
|21/10/2014||Antwerp||Battlefield of Waterloo||1 Museum, 2 Films, 300 steps!|
|22/10/2014||North Sea Canal||(No Tours)||Hurricane in the morning!|
|23/10/2014||Amsterdam||City & Van Gogh Museum||Lovely paintings|
|25/10/2014||Rouen||Paris Discovery||Madeleine, Petit Palais & Seine cruise|
|26/10/2014||Rouen||Monet's House & Garden||Sunshine over the lily ponds!|
|27/10/2014||Southampton||-||Home by 11 am!|
I caught taxis and a train to the Braemar berthed at the QEII terminal in Southampton getting there at noon. Unfortunately it was two and a half hours before I was on board, luckily I had brought my packed lunch with me! At the Deputy Cruise Director's welcome meeting I was greeted by Simon 'Skippy' Vickers, the lovely singer Jane Beaumont, my old colleague Len Pye and my new colleague Gil(bert) Owen. I have sailed with Len several times but didn't immediately recognise Gil. I had actually sailed with him on cruise L1107 to the North Cape when I was travelling with my brother as the port lecturer. I initially agreed to do a port talk but after speaking to William the tours manager I decided to offer an enrichment lecture instead. We danced that evening before, between and after the two production shows "Come on over to my place" featuring the songs of the Drifters. I danced with Ros, Pat and Marion amongst others with enough ladies to go round, which doesn't always happen on a first night out!
Losing an hour, I had to set my alarm for 7 am ready for my first line dance class which only attracted nine punters. It was limited to 20 minutes to make way for the Amsterdam port talk by William the tours manager, so I was only able to teach the Electric Slide & Texas Waltz. At 10:30 I gave my enrichment lecture entitled "The Story of the English Channel". At 11:30 I attended the Singles Mingle where I chatted to Pat & Marion amongst others. This clashed with the Oceans cocktail party but we can't be in two places at once! At 12:00 I grabbed a quick lunch in the Palms Café. At 12:30 I ran my first ballroom dance class when I taught the social foxtrot to a surprisingly full dance floor. This had to finish at one when the Cruise Director started making his arrival announcement. Unfortunately the newly installed audio-visual system was not working, so I had to do both my dance classes without a microphone and give my lecture with a fixed microphone in front of me! At 13:10 I was on the quayside ready for my first tour to Ghent and glad to utilise the free wi-fi there. Quite a busy morning!
The drive to Ghent took about an hour and we explored the old city on foot in the sunshine. We went into a downtown chocolatier's workshop and watched Cedric make Belgian praline chocolates. I pigged out on the free samples, which also included marzipan petit fours, and later felt a bit sick! Back at the ship we danced before, between and after the lovely Jane Beaumont's shows including dancing with Avril, Brenda and others. During Jane's first show I walked into town to find the McDonalds restaurant to utilise their free wi-fi from outside. Back at the ship I listened to Jane's second show and I then danced with a few ladies in the Coral Club before going to bed sometime after midnight.
On the second day in Antwerp I escorted my first choice tour to Waterloo. After a one hour drive past Brussels we visited the Wellington museum (but not the memorial church opposite), saw two excellent films in the visitor centre, walked around the circular panorama painting (not as good as the one in Sevastopol in the Russian Crimea!), and climbed the nearly 300 steps up to the top of the lion monument overlooking the battlefield. On the way back we had to queue for half an hour on the Brussels ring road because of a broken down lorry, so we didn't get back to the ship until 2:15 pm which gave us just enough time to grab a late lunch in the Palms Café. I then slept rather than go back into Antwerp city centre.
That evening was the first formal night but the captain was busy sailing us out of the Schelde estuary so no cocktail party but free drinks instead. Some formally dressed guests complained that they felt over dressed compared with the free loaders! We danced before the production company's "West End to Broadway" musical theatre show, but that night the Bermudian hurricane was departing the North Sea and we encountered force 12 winds at over 60 knots. A quarter of the way through the production show the backdrop collapsed and the show had to be aborted. Being in the frontmost cabin on 3 deck, we had to endure a long night of large waves hitting the bow. The Antwerp pilot was unable to get off but unfortunately wasn't qualified to take us into Amsterdam either, despite being Dutch and not Belgian!
The next morning we couldn't go into Amsterdam without a local pilot and the only available helicopter was doing search and rescue in the North Sea. For the first time in my cruising career the sea traffic control centre (STCC) placed us in a 'stack'. We had to sail back and forth either into or out of the wind. After a while the captain would give us a two minute warning of the fast 180 degree turn at the end of the run. However during breakfast he was ordered by the STCC to perform an emergency turn which he had to do without warning. We listed heavily, plates went flying and the couple sat next me in the Palms Café for breakfast fell badly. The wife was able to get up but the husband had cut his head badly and was carried off on a stretcher. The code alpha alarms filled the air! Other passengers elsewhere suffered broken hips and arms. One lady had to spend four and a half hours in Amsterdam A&E when we finally arrived that evening.
An emergency programme was issued at 9:30 am with me giving my "Antwerp & Amsterdam: a tale of two cities" port talks at 11:15 am. At lunch time the pilot was finally helicoptered on to the ship and we could begin our approach. During the afternoon I mainly stayed up on the top deck with Avril & Brenda, watching the transit of the IJmuiden lock and the passage of the North Sea canal for the first time. Arriving at the Amsterdam Passenger Terminal (PTA) Len, Gilbert and myself walked into the city. I went to use the free wi-fi at the Tourist Information Centre, while they headed to the infamous red light district to gawp! I met up with Gilbert again on the way back to the ship for dinner but Len stayed out later. I then watched the early evening "Bigs Wheels of Motown" production show. We danced between and after the lovely Sarah Chandler's saxophony performances. With Karaoke in the Coral Club I had an earlyish night.
I had been down to escort my first choice tour to the Van Gogh art gallery the previous day, so I eventually got to do it a day later than planned. We had a panoramic tour of the city and an hour & a half at the gallery. It has several self-portraits, one sunflower, one iris, one lifting bridge and one bedroom painting. A small but perfect selection of his works! After lunch and an hour's siesta, I walked back into the city. I traversed the entire length of the pedestrian route to the museum plain. I went into the two new atria of the Rijksmuseum and photographed the outside of the Concertgebouw and the new 'Bath Tub' museum of modern art. I walked back via the Jordaans bohemian quarter after three and half hours of exploration. With an Asian buffet in the Palms Café, I dined for the only time this cruise in the main Thistle restaurant. I sat with a gentleman and a little old lady and dined on Bergen fish soup, sirloin steak and pineapple sunrise. We danced for a whole hour before Bob Taylor's comedy show and again after both performances.
On our one and only sea day I led 9 people line dancing first thing. I taught the Electric Slide, Just Because & Party Samba, the latter since the band had been playing so many sambas that my colleagues couldn't dance. I listened to Howard Lanning's interesting second film talk, then at noon I went to the pub lunch session in the Coral Club (not the Morning Light Pub). I jived with the two sisters before having the snack lunch. I then slept for an hour before my well received 2:00 pm port talks entitled "Rouen & Paris: Two Cities on the Seine". I caught the tail end of the classical pianist playing Sibelius' own arrangement of his Finlandia symphonic poem. At 4 pm I led my second ballroom class teaching the social rumba to 36 people. I had to split them into two groups as the dance floor just wasn't big enough! At 5:30 pm and 7:45 pm we finally had the Captain's two combined welcome/farewell cocktail parties. The cruise director didn't want any dancing so we acted as ushers and then chatted with the passengers, some of whom wanted to talk about my lecture and dance classes earlier in the day! We danced after both performances of the production company's "Let's Swing" show. I pigged out on smoked salmon, prawns, parma ham and the white chocolate fountain with strawberries and marshmallows at the Grand Gala Buffet!
On the first day in Rouen I escorted the Paris Discovery all day tour. I was stood waiting by my bus on the quayside when a gentleman on another coach had a stroke. The code alpha alarm was sounded over the ship's PA and people came running. The escort on the coach was fortunately the Serbian nurse so she performed CPR in case it had been a heart attack. The ship's doctor took over while we all watched as the man lay on the quayside. Quite quickly the local paramedics arrived in a red fire brigade (pumpers/sappers) van, followed by the ambulance and then the police. The original tour bus went off but the Serbian nurse had to get on our bus instead so I was able to chat with her.
After a brief city tour we were dropped off at the Opera House with two hours of free time. I went inside the Madeleine church and the Petit Palais museum. The latter was beautiful and free! I particularly liked the single Cezanne impressionist painting and the pair by Dutch artist Hobbema. I then walked across the Tuileries gardens to the Carousel arch. I went down into the new subterranean shopping centre to view the medieval fortifications. I visited the garden of the wrongly-named Royal Palace and then headed back to the Opera. We drove along the Seine to board our river boat. We had a one hour cruise from the Eiffel Tower to the two islands and back. Back at the ship by 6:15 pm I dined in the Palms Café with Gilbert as usual before dancing from 7:30 to 8:30 pm. Whilst the first crew show was on I updated this blog. We danced both before and after the second crew show. It included some new acts including a Nepalese dance, Thai kick boxing and the Philippino 'Gentlemen'. I indulged in fish and chips at the midnight buffet.
On the final day I forgot that my smartphone would switch to winter time automatically and so had only 20 minutes to get ready. I grabbed a couple of bananas from the buffet and arrived on the quayside just in time. I escorted my first choice tour to Monet's garden in Giverny. The garden and house were charming, but it was the famous water lily ponds that captured my imagination. After lunch on the ship with Pat in the Palms Café, I walked along the quayside into Rouen taking photographs for my "Walk into Town" section of any future port talk. I had to hurry back for the grand tea dance at 3:45 pm where all our regulars turned out, so I was unable to dance with the lovely Jane Beaumont.
After packing, I watched the sailaway from Rouen down the River Seine and then adjourned to the Observatory bar for a pre-dinner cider for the first time this cruise. Despite being the final evening of the cruise, it was British night and we all wore red, white and blue. That evening there were three shows not two in the Neptune Lounge, with the production company doing their "Cool Britannia" show twice and, after the singalong, a variety show at a late 11:15 pm by the three cabaret artistes. This didn't end until 12:15 am so many pax had already walked out!
Back in Southampton, I was off the ship at 8:50 am and met up with Edwina in the taxi queue. We shared a taxi to the station where my train was waiting. Unfortunately over-running engineering works had wreaked havoc across the South West Network and so my train didn't leave for a quarter of an hour and then didn't stop at all the advertised stations. Back in Bournemouth road works meant my final taxi was also prolonged and in the end I had to send an expenses claim for £70 off to FOCL! I was eventually back home for elevenses.
The Assistant Cruise Director (ACD) later wrote "that is an impressive scorecard!"
5 Tours escorted
4 Dance classes led
3 Lectures delivered
2 New ports (Rouen & Amsterdam PTA) visited
2 Cocktail parties attended
1 Tea dance enjoyed!
87 Cruises made.
324 Different Ports visited.
449 Tours escorted.
782 Port Calls made!