|21/12/2014||Dover, England||-||Train via Waterloo|
|26/12/2014||Almeria, Spain||Scenic Andalucia||Sun and Snow!|
|28/12/2014||Ajaccio, Corsica||Cargese: Greek Village||Sunshine & Hailstones!|
|30/12/2014||Trapani, Sicily||-||Erice in Sun & Snow!|
|31/12/2014||Valletta, Malta||Day trip to Gozo||Sunny!|
|02/01/2015||Civitavecchia, Italy||Rome & the Vatican||Sunny!|
|03/01/2015||Livorno, Italy||(Birthplace of the Renaissance)||Overcast|
|04/01/2015||Nice, France||-||Sunny morning!|
|05/01/2015||Barcelona, Spain||Gaudi's Sagrada Familia||Sunny!|
|06/01/2015||Palma de Mallorca||Panoramic Palma & Valldemossa||Overcast|
|07/01/2015||Cartagena, Spain||Villages & Valleys||Sunny!|
|08/01/2015||Gibraltar||Europa Point & English Tea /
Gib. Nat. Choir in St. Michael's Cave
|10/01/2015||Leixoes for Oporto||-||Sunny!|
|13/01/2015||Southampton, UK||-||Tag 'A' Home by 10:20 am!|
I got up at 6 am in order to catch the 8 o'clock train from BoMo to Waterloo. Warren's taxis were unable to provide a car so early on a Sunday morning, so I had to use United taxis for the first time to get to the station. In London I walked along the new balcony to Waterloo East station, just missing the train to Cannon Street station. When I did get there, I only had five minutes to wait for the train to Dover. At the port by 1 pm, Saga Sapphire was berthed but Saga Pearl II (SPII) was nowhere to be seen! I dumped my bags with the security lady and then walked into Dover via the Subway sandwich bar.
On the way back to the cruise terminal at 3 pm, SPII was just arriving after a medical evacuation off Portugal had delayed her. Of course it took several hours to disembark the previous cruise pax, re-provision the ship and then embark us. We were entertained in the terminal by carol singers, a jazz band and then fireworks just before the Sapphire departed around 5:30 pm. I enjoyed the complimentary buffet whilst meeting Margaret Brix the dance instructor and her partner Geoff Howlett together with dance host David Blomfield.
Finally on board at 6:45 pm I was greeted by cruise director Matthew Shaw and his deputy Emma Payne the kiwi, by Nikki Cameron-Clarke, David Calvo and Fernando Perez, all of whom I've worked with before. I was surprised to see stage manager George Alejos who had moved over to SPII from FOCL's Braemar. Jeffrey Flores had also moved from being cruise administrator to Librarian & IT support person. Grazia Giarrizzo the Tours Assistant warned me that the tours to Santiago de Compostela had already been cancelled, so I planned to substitute Almeria alongside Ferrol in my first port talk the next day. I dined on prime rib of beef in the Verandah restaurant with Val, a lady from Leamington Spa and Gordon from Edinburgh. I danced with Joan, Dulcie and Jan before having an early night after a long day.
I had to set my alarm for 6 am as we lost an hour ready for Spain. I breakfasted on a freshly made cheese omelette with Dorothy from Nottingham followed by strawberries and cream! At 9 o'clock I attended Margaret's first line dance class where she taught Electric Slide, Cowboy Charleston, Mama Maria & Cucaracha. After chatting with Tours Manager Andy Barr, I had to make a few changes to my planned talk on Ferrol and Almeria. Unfortunately five minutes before I was due to begin, the Captain announced that due to a mechanical fault we would not be visiting Ferrol at all! So I only gave a 25 minute talk on Almeria alone.
I lunched on smoked salmon, salad & chips with Dorothy and Dr Brian & Joyce Dunn. I then slept for two hours catching up on the busy previous day. In the Discovery lounge I enjoyed the warm strawberry compote with vanilla ice cream & Cointreau at tea time before starting this blog. I dined that evening on cod in lobster sauce with Sally and her husband, Judy & Jeremy and Pamela in the main dining room. We had complimentary wine in lieu of El Ferrol! I danced after dinner and then again after the "Let's Swing" production show.
I slept until 8:20 am before breakfasting on one egg Benedict with Matty the Magician. At Margaret's 9 am line dance class she recapped the four dances from the previous day and also taught Stompin' It Out & Stroll Along Cha Cha, the latter as a one wall dance. After Andy Barr's shore excursion talk, I gave my lecture entitled "The Story of the Mediterranean". I lunched on cold roast beef salad and chips with Pamela and Judy & Jeremy, before sleeping for only half an hour. I gave the afternoon mulled wine, egg nog and mince pies a miss. I did manage a dozen circuits (over a mile) of the top deck in the late afternoon sun.
On the first formal evening I wore my black dinner suit with grey bow tie and grey hankie for the first time, together with my black and white "Bah Humbug" Christmas hat! The Captain's welcome cocktail party ran on somewhat, so I led off the ballroom dancing with Joan, Dulcie & Jan. I dined on fillet steak wrapped in bacon and stuffed with Stilton cheese, it was rather rare but melted in my mouth! Having overdone the complimentary red wine the previous night, I stuck to water. I sat with Adela & John the Quaker couple from Penrith, the 95 year old lady who practically lives on SPII, and a quiet couple who hardly spoke!
I danced before the show to the band, but went to my cabin to re-live my Almeria lecture on the TV whilst the Grecian classical guitarist was playing. After the show we danced to the pianist as the band had moved into Shackleton's bar for Andy Jones' cabaret. When dancing finished in the Discovery lounge, I adjourned to Shackleton's bar with Joan, Dulcie, Margaret & Geoff to hear the second half of Andy's cabaret. We did a bit of dancing on the side as he sang. When the cocktail pianist returned we danced the Electric Slide before retiring to bed after midnight.
The next morning I got up at 7 am and breakfasted early on a cheese omelette with Dr Brian Dunn who had a surgery from 8 until 11 am. Margaret recapped her previous line dances at 9 am and taught the Lemon Tree for a first time. At 10 am I gave my port talks: Ajaccio on Corsica and Olbia on Sardinia. I then finished my laundry by ironing my shirts, having only brought one formal shirt with me. I lunched on gammon, chips & peas on the large, oval table in a packed Verandah restaurant. I then slept for an hour and a half. That afternoon I had my one and only swim in the hot indoor pool.
I dined on the lovely mixed grill with Dorothy from Nottingham in the Verandah Restaurant. Captain Kees & Tina Spekman, who were also dining there, came and spoke to us. I danced before, but not after, the Classical Quartet's enjoyable Christmas concert. This was followed by the Christmas Crackers variety show by the production company. Their 12 dancing days of Christmas was even better than the amusing 12 singing days of Christmas performed by the ship's officers and crew! I was sat at the back of the Discovery Lounge with Andy the Tours Manager, Helen the Artist and various officers and their partners including the Captain and his wife. I stayed for the Philipino choir at midnight, but left for bed when the midnight service resumed.
On Christmas morning we each got given a bottle of Port, a tin of biscuits and a cake in a tin! I breakfasted on one egg Benedict with Dr Brian Dunn who again was up for his early morning crew surgery. At 9 am Margaret taught no new line dances, we just practised those we had already learnt. At last the sun was shining brightly, as we turned into the Straits of Gibraltar. Curiously we wore evening dress for a noon cocktail party when I danced with the usual suspects. Joan asked me to join herself, Dulcie, Audrey & Douglas for Christmas lunch in the main dining room. I had the regulation turkey and Joan kindly shared her red wine with me. I then slept for an hour and a half thus missing the Queen's speech. I walked around the top deck a dozen times as the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean as we entered the Mediterranean. I dined on gammon with Adela & John the Quaker couple from Penrith, another quiet couple and a single gent. I danced both before and after Louis Hoover's excellent Rat Pack show.
On the first port day (Boxing day), I breakfasted on a cheese omelette with the Polish lady. I then escorted my second choice Scenic Andalucia tour. We traversed the Tavernas desert complete with Spaghetti Western stage sets to reach Calahorra where we had a refreshment stop. I enjoyed the bottled pineapple juice but most pax opted for the Spanish coffee. The next stop was at the Puerto de la Ragua pass at 2000 metres altitude (6,500 feet above sea level). The snow was beautifully illuminated by the brilliant sun, but the pine trees obscured the views in both directions. On the way back to the ship we passed the enormous expanse of white plastic covered 'greenhouses'.
I lunched on fish, chips & mushy peas with Barcelona David before missing the sailaway in the glorious sunshine in favour of an hour and a half siesta! I did 10 circuits of the top deck before ironing my shirts in the launderette. I dined on chicken & ham pie with chips in the Verandah restaurant with bridge instructor David & his partner Elaine from Thirsk, together with Mick & Shirley from Gosport. I danced before the Grecian guitarist's second show, but after it most punters adjourned to the disco in Shackleton's bar.
On the next sea day, I breakfasted on one egg Benedict at the large oval table in the Verandah restaurant. Margaret taught Dance the Night Away and recapped her other dances. I attended Jonathan's photography talk for the first time in the cinema. After lunch of cheese burger, chips, tomatoes and peas, I dozed on my bed. At 2:30 pm I gave my port talks on Trapani on Sicily & Valletta on Malta. After ten circuits of the top deck in mild but cloudy weather, I watched Eve's second presentation of Christmas film clips. I dined on beef with Mick & Shirley for a second time together with a Welsh couple. We danced both before and after Louis Hoover's second excellent show.
In Ajaccio on Corsica I breakfasted on a cheese omelette before escorting my first choice tour to the Greek village of Cargese. I braved a short hail storm on the quayside but soon it brightened up and we ended up with a glorious day. At Cargese the interesting Greek Orthodox church was open but the Roman Catholic one wasn't. On the return journey I opted for orange juice at the café stop. After lunch of roast whole leg of beef and all the trimmings (it was Sunday after all), I siesta'd for an hour before heading out into a sunlit Ajaccio.
In the afternoon, I walked along the Prom to the Citadel, past the Cathedral and along by St. Francis's beach to the Place d'Austerlitz Napoleon memorial. I climbed up to the start of the crest walk (sentier des cretes) and then followed the Bellevedere around the higher suburbs back down to the station. I walked back into the city via the pedestrianised Rue Fesch passed the library, art gallery and imperial chapel, all of which were by now closed. I dined on duck with two couples, one pair of which left early when it started to get rough! We danced both before and after the production company's MoTown show.
In Olbia on Sardinia I breakfasted on one egg Benedict before catching the first (or was it the second?) shuttle bus into the city. I walked the length of the main street (Corso Umberto I) going into St. Paul's church halfway and St. Simplicio's basilica at the far end. I photographed all the important sights and visited both the city and provincial Tourist Information Offices, but the new archaeological museum was closed (it was after all a Monday on the continent)! I then caught the shuttle bus back to ship via the Ferry Terminal (Stazione Marittima). I lunched on steak, egg, chips and green beans before sleeping for an hour and a half. In the evening I dined on steak & Stilton pie with Shirley, Mick and Anna-Marie the 95 year old Dutch lady at a window table for four. I danced both before and after the Westenders excellent musical theatre show.
The next day I breakfasted on a cheese omelette with Dr Brian Dunn. No tour in Trapani, so I walked the couple of miles to the Erice cable car, unfortunately the strong wind meant that it was closed. I walked halfway up the road on the northern side of the mountain in the sunshine, before hitching a lift in a minibus to the top. The medieval walled town of Erice was an absolute delight with the majestic Norman castle and several stone churches. Walking back down the road on the southern side of the mountain, I was caught in a snowstorm but fortunately another Italian gave me a lift back to Trapani. I finally found the regional museum in the Annunciation sanctuary before getting back to the ship for a late lunch of steak and kidney pie. I then slept for nearly two hours after my marathon morning expedition. In the evening Jan invited me to dine with her and Adela & John the Quaker couple. I had the sirloin steak and then danced before but not after Fiona Jessica Wilson's soprano show.
In Valletta the capital of Malta, I breakfasted on one egg Benedict before escorting my first choice all day tour to the sister island of Gozo. After crossing the strait on the Gozo ferry, we visited the famous Azure Window natural sea arch before lunching on Grouper fish in Xlendi. We toured the Citadel in Victoria the capital then caught the ferry back to the main island. At the third cocktail party I chatted with Jan, Margaret & Geoff before dining on fillet steak with Margaret, Geoff, Diana (but not Simeon) and another couple. I then danced before and after the Paraguayan harpist but missed out his show to print out a picture for Margaret & Geoff. The production company then performed a cut down version of their Elvis show before we adjourned to the rear decks to see the midnight fireworks. Small but sweet and of course not a patch on those in Madeira where I will be next New Year, again lecturing on the SPII!
I breakfasted on a cheese omelette (can you see the pattern yet?) followed by Margaret's line dance class, where she taught Honky Tonk Stomp. Unfortunately the New Year morning service overran and then we had a technical problem with the projection lead. So I lectured on Civitavecchia & Rome at 11:25 am ten minutes late! I lunched on strip steak with David the dance host before sleeping for an hour and a half. It was too windy to walk around the top deck despite the sunshine, so I made do with walking up and down the side promenade on the sunny side out of the wind. We had been due to sail past both Etna and Stromboli, but the wind meant that we sailed west not east of Sicily. At 5:15 pm I lectured on Livorno & Florence this time right on time! I dined on veal shank with Carole & David from Wakefield and Adela & John the Quaker couple, before dancing and watching the Westenders second show, perhaps not quite as good as the first.
I breakfasted on one egg Benedict before escorting my first choice all day tour to the Vatican City in Rome. We started out at the Vatican Museums before visiting the packed Sistine Chapel and the relatively empty St. Peter's Basilica. The famous elliptical piazza was teeming with young men selling selfie sticks. They quoted a price of 20 euros, but I got one for 5! Fortunately I had been on the free internet the previous eveving on the ship and had found the cheapest selfie sticks were £3.50 on Amazon, so I was happy to shell out 5 euros for one in Rome. We had an excellent lunch before doing a panoramic coach tour of the city with one photo stop at the Circus Maximus. Back at the ship I dined on lamb shank (not as big as the veal shank the previous night!) with the Stevenage Bagpiper, the Welsh couple and another quiet couple. I danced before, but not after, Fiona Jessica Wilson's second soprano show.
I breakfasted on a cheese omelette before walking into Livorno. I had been down to escort my first choice Birthplace of the Renaissance tour to Florence but reluctantly pulled out when I was timetabled to lecture that afternoon. So in the morning I photographed the sights on the south side of Livorno and then after lunch of prawn salad with chips and a short siesta, I photographed the city centre sights. In the event my lecture was put back to 6:15 pm so I could have visited Florence after all! So I then gave my port talks on Nice and Barcelona finishing right on 7 pm ready for dinner. I dined on gammon and chips with Clare from Jersey with her friend Sheila from Stockport and a lady from Mersea Island, the latter without her husband who was ill in their cabin. I danced before and after the production company's "Jersey meets Mersey", more like "New Jersey meets New Brighton" if you ask me!
Arriving in Nice, I breakfasted on one egg Benedict before getting off the ship at 8:30 am. I explored Old Nice, before spending over an hour joy riding on the new trams, buying a ticket for both legs at 3 euros in total. I got on near Place Garibaldi and off near Place Massena, both places where the trams switch from the overhead wires to their internal batteries. I walked back via the famous Promenade des Anglais in glorious sunshine, bumping into both Clive Carrington who lives nearby and Dr Brian Dunn searching for his wife Joyce at a seafront café. With a ten minute queue for the free lift, I climbed on foot to the top of the castle hill for wonderful views both east and west along the coast.
Back at the ship we were greeted by a surprise al fresco Mediterranean luncheon and sailaway. So I changed into my Espana polo shirt and joined in the fun. I took advantage of the Three Network's Feel at Home 3-2-1 tariff to wish my brother and sister-in-law a Happy New Year. I lunched on Parma ham, Steak Diane, ice cream and then cheese & biscuits with Karin and her husband right at the back of the aft deck as we slipped away from Nice harbour in the sunshine and music. After one glass of complimentary sangria and a pint of complimentary lager, I slept for two hours! I did a dozen circuits of the top deck as the ship headed into a glorious sunset. I attended the Britannia Club cocktail party before dining on beef with Carole (but not Dave), an Ulsterman and a lady from Birkenhead. I danced before the Paraguayan harpist's show, but nearly fell asleep when he began so went to bed at 10:30 pm!
Arriving in Barcelona, my biography was printed in the Today programme. After breakfasting on a cheese omelette, I caught the 9 am shuttle bus to Catalonia Place in Barcelona. I walked back to the ship via Las Ramblas in the sunshine getting back at 10:15 ready for escort duty at 10:30 am. I then visited the magnificent Sagrada Familia basilica for the first time. Back at the ship at 2 pm I grabbed the roast leg of beef held over from Sunday due to the Mediterranean al fresco luncheon the previous day. I slept for an hour and three quarters before lecturing on Palma and Cartagena. We were then entertained by a local folkloric show. I then dined on rump of lamb with Dorothy and Anne & her husband. I danced both before and after Melody Lane's vocal/instrumental duo. Their musicanship was excellent but I could have done without the chat! I particularly enjoyed the Irish song "Tell me Ma".
In Palma on Majorca I breakfasted on one egg Benedict before escorting the panoramic tour to Valldemossa. We had photo stops for the cathedral going out and for the castle coming back. In the hilltop village we had lovely hot chocolate in the café followed by plenty of free time in which to explore. Back at the ship I lunched on smoked salmon, Caesar salad & chips with Nigel & Kathleen, both without their respective spouses. I slept for two hours before doing a short photo shoot around the cruise terminals. I dined on sirloin steak with Mary & her husband from Hemel Hempstead and the gentleman from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge who was without his wife. I danced both before and after the lovely Maria King's piano show.
In Cartagena I breakfasted on a cheese omelette with Joyce Dunn before escorting my first choice Villages & Valleys tour. We began at the Holy Fountain Sanctuary church above Murcia, before continuing on to the famous water wheel at Abaran. We snacked on chorizo, cheese and orange juice at Archena, before returning to the ship. I had a late al fresco lunch of Wiener Schnitzel with Joan and Dulcie. I then slept for an hour and three quarters before updating my next presentations, my two final port talks on Gibraltar and Leixoes for Oporto. I dined on salmon with a Scots couple and the Polish lady. I danced before but not after Roger McGough's poetry readings.
Still at sea, I breakfasted on one egg Benedict. Berthed in Gibraltar by 11 am, I walked to Morrison's supermarket (buying nothing as usual!) followed by the Tourist Information Office in Casements Square. Back at the ship by noon, I had a light lunch before escorting my first choice Europa Point & English Tea tour. At the Rock Hotel they were redecorating, but the afternoon tea was as magnificent as ever. I particularly liked the smoked salmon & horseradish sandwiches and the Black Forest gateaux cakes. Back at the ship again, I had a lie down before escorting Saga's complimentary Magic Moment evening at St. Michael's Cave. This featured the Gibraltar National Choir singing, as the stalactites and stalagmites were illuminated with coloured lights. I enjoyed "I dreamed a dream" from Les Mis and "Edelweiss" from the Sound of Music. The concert concluded with a lively medley of Beatles' songs. Back at the ship yet again, I dined on haddock with Joan & Peter from Dartmouth (BRNC), Eileen & Dennis and Gordon from Edinburgh. I danced both before and after Melody Lane's multi-instrumental show which was even better than their first performance. I particularly enjoyed the Irish song "Lord of the Dance".
I breakfasted on a cheese omelette before enjoying Margaret's line dance class where she taught Country Walkin'. I then listened to Mike Cowan's comedy talk. I'd heard most of the jokes before but still laughed! I did a dozen circuits of the top deck (over one mile) in the sunshine. I lunched on roast lamb with James from Tavistock and a lady from Waterloo in Belgium, before my siesta. I did every dance bar one at the tea dance before partaking in two strawberry kebab sticks dipped into the chocolate fountain! I then did ten circuits of the top deck (one mile) in the sunshine. I dined on minced beef faggots with Pauline from South East London, Clare from Jersey and their friend Sheila from Stockport. I danced both before and after the lovely Maria King's piano performance.
I breakfasted on one egg Benedict with Dr Brian Dunn before catching the first shuttle bus into Oporto. After visiting the tourist information office in the main square, I caught the yellow hop-on, hop-off bus. On a previous visit to Lisbon (or was it Funchal?) I had been given a complimentary pass to the yellow Portuguese tour buses, so I was able to do the one and a half hour historic circuit in glorious sunshine for free! I caught the 11:30 shuttle bus back to the ship before lunching on lasagna al fresco. After a siesta twice interrupted by my mobile phone, I walked around Leca de Palmeira and Matosinhos. I photographed the two Quintas (manor houses) in the former and fish barbeques in the latter. Back at the ship we were entertained by our second folklore show. I normally hate these and was expecting the awful Portuguese fado singing. Instead we had an Anthony Stuart Lloyd lookalike singing, in French and Spanish as well as Portuguese, to wonderful samba, cha cha and tango backing tracks. He was accompanied by two young, enthusiastic women dancers, not at all what I had feared! I ate only one delicious egg custard tart (Pasteis de Belem) brought on board for afternoon tea. In the evening I dined on sirloin steak for a second night with Pauline from South East London, Clare from Jersey and their friend Sheila from Stockport. I danced both before and after the crew show which culminated in the brilliant hand mime to "You raise me up".
I breakfasted on a cheese omelette before dancing at Margaret's line dance class where she taught Irish Stew. As we crossed the Bay of Biscay, I only managed half a dozen circuits of the top deck despite the sunshine. During the morning, I finally got around to updating my Livorno powerpoint presentation. I lunched on roast leg of beef with James & David, before sleeping for an hour. I then gave my talk entitled "Shackleton: the importance of being Sir Ernest". During the afternoon I updated my Nice powerpoint presentation too. At the Captain's farewell cocktail party I chatted with Julian and others. Waiter Dranreb (Bernard backwards!) slipped me a G&T with a wink! I then dined on lobster with Tours Manager Andy, who provided me with white wine, together with the Welsh couple from Cardigan and the elderly couple from Lyndhurst in the New Forest. I danced only a couple of times both before and after Explosive Productions' final show "Cool Britannia" in honour of which I wore my union flag bow tie!
I breakfasted on my final single egg Benedict with dance host David. At 10 am I gave my third and final guest lecture entitled "Hitler & Putin: a Tale of Four Cities". For the rest of the morning I worked on this blog. I lunched on chicken, ham & mushroom pie with David on the large oval table in the Verandah restaurant. I then slept for two and a quarter hours before starting to pack. I dined on gammon with the Polish lady and a couple of teachers from Derbyshire. I danced both before and after Roger McGough's second poetry reading. At the end of the evening we had photographs and said thanks to the SPII orchestra.
I breakfasted on a cheese omelette for one last time in the Verandah restaurant. With luggage tag 'A', I was first off the ship before 9 am. The Ocean Terminal was shambolic. No large letter 'A' above our luggage, so it was difficult to find. I then had to answer a few questions by the Border Force (?) who I had never, ever seen before at Southampton. Outside, the sign to queue for the taxis was in the wrong place. There was only one taxi present and Karin and her husband kindly allowed me to join them in it for a free ride to the station. She quizzed me on the fate of "Mrs. Chippy" the cat on Shackleton's Endurance expedition! I only had to wait five minutes for my train and I was home by 10:20 am!
Kathleen, who had given me a cuff link and tie pin set at the end of our previous voyage together on the Christmas cruise in 2012 on Saga Ruby, gave me a lovely Maltese letter opener. She wrote "Many thanks for all your interesting lectures and the dances we have shared together. You are a great asset to Saga, keep up the good work." Margaret the dance instructor wrote: "Thank you for the dancing, very enjoyable, hope to meet with you again on another cruise." Karin another lecturer wrote: "We both very much enjoyed meeting you on board Saga Pearl ll and hearing your splendid talks." Jan wrote: "Well thanks for your excellent destination lectures (factual & interesting) plus helping out with the dancing, which I enjoyed."
88 Cruises 13 Port Talks (Almeria, Ajaccio, Olbia, Trapani, Valletta, Civitavecchia, Livorno, Nice, Barcelona, Palma, Cartagena, Gibraltar & Leixoes for Oporto) 9 Tours escorted 5 Cocktail Parties attended 3 Guest Lectures (The Story of the Mediterranean, Shackleton and Hitler & Putin) 2 City Talks (Rome & Florence) 1 Cruise enjoyed!
Updated PowerPoint Presentations: Almeria Ajaccio Olbia Trapani Valletta Civitavecchia Rome Livorno Nice