During the first two weeks of August, I was on holiday. This year I again travelled with my sister Janet and her family on a cruise around the Western Mediterranean Sea. This year however, our party also included my mother. Although I took my laptop with me this year, and part of this web log entry was written on it, other priorities have resulted in the final editing and publication of this article being delayed until the start of September.
This cruise was booked within weeks of returning home from the cruise aboard the Emerald Princess last year. Once again I would be travelling on the Grand Princess, following the “Mediterranean Adventurer” itinerary.It visited may ports of call that I have cruised to before, however Cartagena in Spain and Ajaccio on Corsica are places I have never visited, so that was something to look forward to.
The Grand Princess is a large vessel, at 106,000 gross tonnes, but on that is comfortable and has lots of character. This would be the second time that I had cruised on this ship, but I had enjoyed my first cruise on her. By the time I disembarked at Southampton, I was convinced that the Grand Princess is my favourite ship in the Princess Cruise Line’s fleet and I look forward to cruising on her again at some point in the future.
Day 1: Saturday, 1st August, 2009 – Treherbert and Southampton
With very little time before the minibus from Traveland was due to pick me up to take us to Southampton for the cruise, I still had a number of jobs to do. Unfortunately, I wasted nearly twenty minutes. All because of the problem I have been having with the shower unit. On Friday night I had a shower before I went to bed. The shower tray has been draining slowly, so I left it full of water, safe in the knowledge that it would drain slowly and be empty in a few hours. So imagine my horror when I went to shave the following morning and discovered that the thing was still full of dirty, cold and greasy water. Now, I didn’t want to leave that for a fortnight, going stagnant. So there I was, bailing out the ach-y-fi water with a coffee mug. As a result, I forgot to put my cufflinks and put them in my holdall. Last year I misplaced them, this year I went without them. Those cuff-links are cursed.
Janet, Andy and the boys were getting down to Southampton under their own steam, so only myself and my mother were on the Traveland coach. As I had had far too little sleep the previous night, I slept for most of the journey from Cardiff to Newbury, where Traveland had arranged for us to have our lunch. After lunch, it should have taken an hour to get to Southampton, but the traffic on the roads was horrendous, bumper to bumper adding an extra half an hour to the trip. Consequently, the rest of the family were already on-board by the time I arrived at the Mayflower Terminal. Being a Platinum member of the Captain’s Circle loyalty scheme meant that we got priority check-in and did not have to wait in the horrendous queue in the Terminal. And so back aboard the Grand Princess, which is possibly my favourite of all the ships in the Princess Line fleet. This year, I am sharing a stateroom with Andy and Thom, whilst my mother and Janet are in the next stateroom along the corridor with James and Jim. Andy joked that because I was the last to arrive, I would be in the bunk. I pulled rank, the days of me going up that ladder are long gone, Thom is younger and fitter. Once I had dumped my stuff in the stateroom, it was up to the Horizon Court on Deck 14 for the first of many cups of the excellent coffee that they serve there. OK, and the first lot of nibbles as well, well I am on a cruise, so what do you expect.
You Must Muster
International Maritime Law makes it compulsory for all passengers on a cruise to attend a Mustering Exercise within the first 24 hours. Even though I have been on many cruises, and know this drill, To make sure that everyone does attend this exercise, all passenger services aboard close down whilst it is taking place. The exercise starts with the Emergency Signal, which consists of seven short blasts of the alarms/ship’s whistle and one long blast. Somebody said that this signal had to be loud enough to wake people from the deepest of sleep if it were to go off at night. Well, the alarm aboard the Grand Princess would definitely disturb Beelzebub’s beauty sleep in the deepest bowels of Hell if ever it were to go off. If ever I were to hear this alarm whilst I was on a cruise, then I would know that the shit had hit the fan, and I would have to make my way to the stateroom, pick-up my life-jacket, a warm item of clothing and my medication, and head off to the Mustering Station. On this cruise, I was in Muster Station A, the Princess Theatre at the front of Deck 7. I do not begrudge doing this Muster Drill at the start of each cruise. After all, the worse might happen and it is best to be prepared.
Clockwise Around Vectis
At just after 6pm, the Grand Princess under her new Master, Captain Edward Perrin, slipped its moorings at Southampton’s Mayflower Terminal and set sail on Voyage A918 to the Western Mediterranean. After leaving Southampton Water, the ship headed East, past Portsmouth. Even the seven seas have one way systems. I have seen this particular trip before, so as my cases had arrived, whilst Andy and Thom went up on deck, I unpacked the cases and stowed all my stuff away for the voyage.
It has always amazed me that there has never been a bridge build across the narrow strip of water that separates the Isle of White from the mainland of Hampshire. There is a bridge across the Menai Straits, which is just as busy as the Solent, and there must be more people living on the Island than who live on Anglesey. So why did one of the great Georgian/Victorian civil engineers construct something wondrous across the Solent?
Once again our evening meal would be in the second sitting in the Bottachelli Dining Room. Although, Andy, Thom and Jim went upstairs to the Horizon Court for their evening meal. I had the rib-eye steak for my dinner, medium rare. The desert was also outstanding, as it was some sort of cooked banana pudding in a butterscotch sauce. It was all wonderful. I would be living like kings for the next fortnight. I was so tired after dinner, I decided to have an early night.
Day 2: Sunday, 2nd August, 2009 – At Sea
My alarm went of at 8am and I took the first of my Modifanil tablets to counteract the recently diagnosed Narcolepsy. Having taken a large dose of stimulants, there was no point rolling over and going back to sleep, it would just be training the body to fight the medication. So I headed up to the Horizon Court for some breakfast. The daily Princess Patter new-sheet said that there would be a tour of the ship at 10am. I thought that I would tag along, as even though I have cruised on this ship before, there might still learn something new. Well, having said that, I knew more or less all that the guide showed me. After that, it was down to the Explorer Lounge for the first quiz of the cruise. I got 15 out of 21, and I can see that I have some serious competition on this cruise. Then down to the Da Vinci for a drop of lunch with my mother.
After dinner, that evening there was a music quiz in the Vista Lounge that I did with Janet, Andy and Thom. The member of the Cruise Director’s staff played a snippet of an intro to a pop song, and for a point each, we had to name the song and the artist that performed it. Between us we got top marks of 40 out of 40. What really surprised me was that Thom recognised Combined Harvester by the Worzells. I thought that they were a horror from my childhood that he would never have crossed his path.
Each Stateroom has a television, that shows a selection of films and videos to entertain the passengers. For the first two days the ship was within the footprint of the Astra 2D satellite, so they also showed all the UK television channels that are also carried by the Astra network. Tom and Andy decided to go and see Top Gear instead of waiting until they got home to watch the recording on the SKY+. I suspected that as the ship was now well into the Bay of Biscay, we would soon be losing the signal from that satelite, but hoped it would remain for long enough for them to watch their programme. Sadly ten minutes into the broadcast, the Grand Princess sailed out of the footprint of the satellite and the screen went blank.
There is definitely a different pace to this cruise. It is more relaxed without the hassle of a flight at the start and end of the voyage. Up in the piano bar on Deck 7, there were people enjoying themselves at 11pm. On previous cruises this bar is dead by that time in the evening. I suppose it is because there had been a day at sea, and the next day was also at sea, would explain it. There was no need for anyone to have an early night because they would have to be up in time for shore excursions the following morning, and as everyone had spent all day lounging around, they really were not tired enough to want an early night.
There was a setting on the laptop that meant that if I left the mouse pointer in one place too long, it counted as a click on the left button. So, all the text was highlighted, and deleted. And then I managed to shut down ScribeFire without thinking, and guess what, when it restarted it had deleted the first version of this entry. After a few fruitless minutes looking to see if there was still a temporary file somewhere in the file system that contained my missing text, headed into the configuration settings of Ubuntu, and altered things, so that this could never happen again.
Day 3: Monday, 3rd August, 2009 – At Sea
Up in the Horizon Court, there was a selection of Sushi as part of the buffet. Mostly vegetable maki, but there were a few with bits of sashimi in them. They had little thimbles of a black tar like substance by the side of the selection. I don’t know what this was, but it sure as hell was not the soy sauce that the little sign above it claimed. It tasted strongly of aniseed, a lot like cough medicine which it also strongly resembled in colour and consistency. I think that someone had filled the little thimbles with the concentrate that normally went into the Iced Tea dispensers. Never the less I enjoyed the sushi, with the washabi and pickled ginger that was available.
I had planned on painting another mug with the name of the ship, the dates of the cruise on it. Unfortunately, they had run out of blank mugs, and the Ceramics at Sea area, which was in the blazing sunshine, was full of kids, so I decided to give it a miss this trip.
OK, so one day at sea is relaxing, the second one is less so. Nowhere to go other than the ship, and nerves can be a little bit frayed. To help take the edge of the tedium, tonight was the first of the formal nights aboard. This is a nice photo of myself and the two Jameses. Janet wanted to pose it with me in the middle, but I wanted it like this. She said that it looked too much like the Class sketch from The Frost Report. Exactly, I said, that is how I wanted it.
I Know My Place
On the Promenade Deck #7 on all Princess/P&O cruise ships is a bar with a big white grand piano, where a very talented musician plays the instrument and sings songs to entertain the customers of the bar. It is where I usually spend my evenings after I have finished dinner, if there is not a film or a show that takes my fancy. This cruise, behind the grand piano were a pair of Casio keyboards, and I thought that this would be a nice change. the artists in residence at the Piano Bar were Alan and Alane. After dinner, I found a seat in he bar, which was full as the artists were running their nightly trivia quiz. As I had missed the start, I went for a bit of a walk and came back later once the artists were performing. After about the third or fourth song, Alane asked if there were any requests, yes dear I thought, could we have someone who can sing please. She was terrible, flatter than Amsterdam, and whilst Alan was very talented on the keyboards, he also had a very weak voice as well.
Day 4: Tuesday, 4th August, 2009 – Malaga
First port of call. The big trip from the ship that Janet and Andy were going on was to Granada and the Alhambra Palace. I went there way back in the 1990′s, and anyway, I am more interested in Cartagena tomorrow, so I decided to stay aboard. If you have never been to the Alhambra it is well worth the trip. You can see why the impregnable Moorish fortress eventually fell. Opulence replaced practicality, the Arabs had gone soft and the Spanish had a hunger. Janet and Andy went, their trip departed at 10.30am so my mother had the two Jameses.
Lunchtime, I had a nice meal in the Da Vinci, mostly on my own, as there were so few people still aboard, but as I was finishing my main course, a couple was shown to the table I was sitting at.
I decided that I really should not just stay aboard. So I headed from the restaurant, across to the gangway, and went ashore. But only as far as the outside of the terminal building. I went through the doors, said “hello Malaga”, turned around and went back to the ship. A token gesture.
The Journeys of Dewi the Dragon
Through most the cruise, wherever Janet went, so did a little toy red dragon called Dewi. So many of the photos I have of my sister on this holiday feature here holding this toy. No, she has not reverted back to childhood, it is all to do with something she willl be teaching next year, a way making Geography more interesting to young minds in her class.
A Card Home
The afternoon, after lunch I started writing my postcards. This year I was sending six, two would be written in Welsh. One of the exercise in the Exam I did in June was writing a postcard yn Cymraeg, so why not put that skill to use. Naturally, there were some words that I would have to look up, so I started by composing a draft on a piece of paper, leaving blanks (with the English in brackets) for three or four words I had to look up on-line. Then shortly after departure, when the on-board shops reopened, I bought six copies of a card showing the Grand Princess at sea, and started writing. Stamps on-board have to be purchased from the Purser’s Desk, and are possibly the only thing that are paid for using real money, as you cannot pay for them using the ship-board account. I finally got to use the dollar bills that had been stuck in my wallet since last year. Just after midnight, I had finished writing the last one. I then posted them in the box by the Purser’s Desk on Deck 6. The following day, just before departure, they would be posted back to Britain. Hopefully, as there are so many British tourists in this part of Spain, the cards will arrive home before I do.
Day 5: Wednesday, 5th August, 2009 – Cartagena (Spain)
Steak for Breakfast
I went down for breakfast in the Da Vinci Room. Every morning, in addition to the standard selection of breakfast munchies such as toast, bacon and fried tomatoes, there is a speciality egg dish, be it Eggs Benedict or Alaskan Scrambled Eggs (with smoked salmon). Today the speciality was described as the Lumberjack, and it consisted of a minute steak with two fried eggs, a hash brown, fried mushrooms and a fried tomato. Never having had steak for breakfast, I had to give it a go. Not really sure if I would try it again though, as it sat a little heavy on my stomach.
The First Modern Military Submarine
The city of Cartagena in the region of Murcia was founded by the Carthaginians in the third century BC. It was Hannibal’s first stop in Europe and then a major Roman City. After the Romans, it was occupied first by the Byzantine Empire and then my the Moors before the Spanish. It reminds me a lot of Plymouth, as it is surrounded by hills and is the most southerly and westerly of Spain’s three Naval cities, just as Plymouth is the most southerly and westerly of Britain’s naval cities. The Port Lecturer aboard Señor Delgado said when he was talking about Cartagena that it was where he had done his national service there, and back then, the place had been a bit of a dump. However, in recent years, since the Cruise Ships had started calling in the Port, the regional government had started spending cash to make it more attractive. And true enough, it does now look very pretty. The city is still very cramped with a medieval layout, and some of the buildings are still a bit grotty, but on the whole it was a nice place to visit.
On leaving the cruise terminal, there is a replica of the first modern military submarine, which was built in the early twentieth century and operated from the Arsenal, the main naval base in Cartagena. I just cannot imagine working and living under the water in something so small and experimental. Even the thought of being in a modern submarines, which are huge in comparison, give me the heeby-geebies.I don’t know how the crew could live and work in such a small unit.
Ancient and Modern
The main thing I wanted to see in Cartagena was the Roman Theatre in the Plaza Condesa Peralta. This was rediscovered in 1988, when a derelict mansion was demolished to make way for a new arts centre. A quick archaeological survey of the site threw up far more than anyone had been expecting. After the Romans left this part of Spain, the grand theatre became derelict. However, as this part of the city has been in continual occupation since Roman times, first the stage area was built over by the Byzantines, and then the seating area by the Moors. By the late twentieth century, the theatre was completely forgotten, and a district called the Fisherman’s Quarter stood on the site. The whole theatre has been excavated now and nothing remains of the Fisherman’s Quarter.
The excavation and restoration of the Roman Theatre is managed by El Fundación Treatro Romano de Cartagena, who also maintain the museum at the entrance to the ruins. Not that they had gone out of their way to point this out to passing tourists. The museum entrance looked like a shop front. At first I thought the sign outside it was just reminding people visiting the city that there was an interesting historical sight in another part of town. As it turned out the museum was a four story building, and as I progressed through the museum, the exhibits took us back in time to the Roman city of Carthago Nova, then via the ruins of the Cathedral of Santa Maria La Vieja into the middle levels of the theatre.
1. 2. 3. 4.
1. Me striking a pose on stage.
2. Dewi up in the cheap seats.
3. Me in the Theatre with the ruins of the cathedral behind me and
4. Janet with Dewi.
Now that the Theatre has been completely uncovered, parts of the structure have been restored to what they would have looked like in their heyday. This work had to be reversible, so that if needs be, it could be removed without causing any damage to the ancient remains below, whilst blending sympathetically in with the ruins. As far as I can see, this as been achieved remarkably well, as the modern additions seem perfectly solid.
If ever you get a chance to visit Cartagena, then I highly recommend that you make time to visit the Roman Theatre. It is well worth the effort and you will not be disappointed.
Red Red Wine
On the way back to the ship, Janet and I passed a Farmer’s Market type of thing. I tried some very nice red wines made from the local Monastrell variety of grape. I decided to buy three bottles from the stall. The three bottles bottles were given back to me in a cardboard carrying box. Sadly, the box proved to be defective, not having a strong enough of bases, and on the way back to the ship the bottles came crashing down onto the pavement. I think everyone in Cartagena must have heard the wine bottles crashing and smashing. I returned to the stall, and tried to explain that bottles had broken and that there was a pile of glass on the pavement. Needless to say, there was no way that I could have cleaned up the mess and I the people on the stall, who exchanged the box and the surviving bottle for me, were able to clean up the mess. It was so embarrassing, especially as the box broke a few metres from the Tourist Information Centre and the Bus Turistica, full of passengers from the Grand Princess, which had just arrived at its terminus. I was infamous aboard ship for the rest of the day.
Then back to the ship, where I had a pleasant meal down in the Da Vinci and a relaxing afternoon. Whilst I was up on the Lido Deck, I heard three long blasts on the ship’s whistle, and realised that the ship had left Cartagena, on its way to Barcelona.
Day 6: Thursday, 6th August, 2009 – Barcelona
Rambling up La Ramblas
Janet and Dewi on Las Ramblas
Barcelona, the capital of the Autonomous region of Catalonia and one of my favourite places in the whole of Spain. I enjoy walking up and down La Ramblas, the wide tree lined avenue that starts by the monument to Christopher Columbus and ends at Plaça de Catalunya in the city centre. However to get there I needed to take a shuttle bus from the heart of the busy port where the MV Grand Princess was docked. I don’t know if it is just my faulty memory, but I am certain that this used to be a complimentary shuttle service. This time round Janet and I were charged $5 each for a return ticket. Having paid so much for this holiday, I think it is an absolute cheek that Princess are trying to squeeze every last shekel out of its passengers.
The main aim of the day was to visit Cortes Ingles, the huge department store on the Plaça de Catalunya to by some presents for the family back home. Cortes Ingles is a huge shop, with nine floors and two basement levels. It has just about everything, grocery store, travel agency, fashions, paints and DIY material etc.
Day 7: Friday, 7th August, 2009 – Monte Carlo
The MS Grand Princess in the Distance
The Tender Trap
The Grand Princess, just like the Emerald Princess last year is just too big for Monte Carlo’s Harbour, so it sat at anchor about a mile of shore and passengers had to use the ship’s large lifeboats as tender vessels to get to and from this port of call. I hate tendering, I think it is a royal pain and originally had no intention of going ashore. That seemed a bit silly, after travelling all the way there. I went down and had my lunch with my mother. She said that she was going to be going ashore that afternoon, as she had never been to Monte Carlo before, even though a previous cruise had had Monaco as one of its listed ports of call. On that occasion, the weather had been too bad for tendering so the ship she was on had called in at Genoa instead. It did seem sill for me to be the only member of my family to remain aboard the Grand Princess, so I headed on down to Gala Deck with the rest of them and got aboard the tender vessel.
It was not nearly as warm it had been when I visited Monte Carlo, but it was still hotter than I am used to. After we all got of the tender, we went to gawk at all the Ferraris parked on the quayside. I am sure one of them must have been one of the new limited edition “Enzo” sports car because it looked slightly different the rest of the Ferrari parked there. The can be little doubt that the “Prancing Pony” does produce the prettiest cars in the World.
This year, the family did not go as far afield as last year. We made our way to Fort Antoine and had a wander around its gardens. A plaque on the wall gave some details about the Fort, which was celebrating its three hundredth birthday, but this plaque was in French, so excuse me if I got some of the details wrong. The fort was established by Prince Antoine I in 1709 and took three years to complete. The gardens were established by Prince Charles III in 1883. It was occupied by the Germans in 1944 and badly damaged when they retreated at the end of World War II and the Fort and Gardens were restored by Prince Renier III in 1956.
Back aboard the Grand Princess, they were serving Afternoon Tea in the Da Vinci Dining Room. As I hadn’t eaten in three hours, I decided to try it out. Very nice it was to, with smartly dressed waiters with white gloves bring a selection of sandwiches, cakes and scones with jam and cream on trays, whilst fresh hot tea was served constantly. A musician played pleasantly on a piano whilst all this was going on. I enjoyed it a great deal.
Day 8: Saturday, 8th August, 2009 – Civitivecchia (For Rome)
A Quiet Day
The port of Civitivecchia is nearly forty kilometres from Rome, a good hour on the autostrada and possibly longer by train. So, as I was having a lazy time this holiday, I decided to stay aboard and have a relaxing day, as did Janet, my mother and the Jameses. That left Andy and Thom heading of to the eternal city.
Limoncello di Sorento
It is usual on a Princess Cruise for one night in the restaurants to be themed as an Italian Night. This cruise was no exception. As I walked the Botticelli Dining Room I spotted a number of bright yellow bottles in ice. The following days port of call would Naples and these bottles contained Limoncello di Sorrento, a speciality of the Bay of Naples. I had to give it a try, so I ordered a glass from the waiter. I was pleasantly surprised when the waiter refilled my glass with this delicious lemon aperitif. I should have realised that this was much stronger than it appeared, when I knocked the almost empty second glass over instead of picking it up. The waiter refilled the glass for a third time, and I was starting to feel lightheaded. That third refill was definitely a mistake, as even after strong coffee, when I got up to leave the Dining Room, my body headed one way and my feet wanted to head in the other.
So, once I got back to the stateroom, I looked Limoncello up on the Internet. I am not surprised that I was so light-headed, It is made by pickling lemon zest in 98% proof grain alcohol to extract its flavours. Once the pickled zest has been removed from the resulting liquor is mixed in a 1:1 ratio with a sugar syrup. This intoxicating brew is so dangerously drinkable, however, I will have to treat it with more respect next time.
Day 9: Sunday, 9th August, 2009 – Naples
The Life of Reilly
Another quiet day on-board the Grand Princess. Last year I went to Herculaneum, two years prior to that I had visited Pompeii and treked up Vesuvius, so there was not a lot left that I wanted to see. I could have gone on a hydrofoil to Capri with Janet and Andy, but decided not to. I was enjoying living the Life of Reilly far to much.
I headed down to the Da Vinci Dining Room for my lunch. It being a Sunday, I chose the roast chicken, which was the closest thing on the menu to a traditional Sunday Roast with vegetables.
The highlight of the evening’s entertainment was a chance to see J. J. Abrams new Star Trek movie. This is the second time that I have seen this film, and it is as good on second viewing as it was on the first. I was paying more attention this time around to all the references to the original series and the previous movies. I’m still not sold on Simon Pegg as Scotty, and neither were the rest of my family. My mother, who has alwas been a bigger Trek Fan than me thought it was absolutely stunning.
Day 10: Monday 10th August, 2009 – Ajaccio, Corsica
Today’s port of call is the capital of the French is
Grievously Harmful to a Body
land of Corsica and was Napoleon Bonaparte’s birthplace. As with Cartagena earlier in the cruise, this was somewhere I had never visited before and somewhere I really wanted to visit.
Janet and Andy buy a little momento of every place they visit, so we all wandered into a shop selling tacky ornaments in one of the warren of side streets in Ajaccio. It takes a lot to shock my brother-in-law Andy, he is a policeman in Cardiff. However, he was so shocked by what he saw in that shop that he visibly went pale, the expensively acquire sun tan from the holiday just faded away. In the middle of all the tacky ornaments was one display case, whose contents, apart from the torches, had no legitimate use, all the items are intended to cause serious harm and would be illegal to own under UK Law. Tom took this photo of to contents, just to prove that we had not imagined it.
And so, back to the ship for a quiet afternoon. I had now reached the stage where I was tired of eating, and beginning to think of home. So far, this has been a brilliant cruise.
Day 11: Tuesday, 11th August, 2009 – At Sea
The Long Way Home
Although technically the Grand Princess started her return trip when we departed Naples on Sunday, as we had remained in Franco-Italian Waters, it really did not feel that way. This all changed today, as since departure from Ajaccio, the Grand Princess has been following mostly westerly headings, in the general direction of Gibraltar and then home. Today was a day 6at sea. After crossing the Gulf of Lyon the previous night and passing the Balearic Islands that morning, the Grand Princess was in the Alboran Sea, the narrowest part of the Mediterranean Sea, to the west of the Straits of Gibraltar.
Here Comes the Bride
Three years ago, Janet and Andy had discussed getting married aboard the Grand Princess, but decided against it. It does still happen though, and this afternoon as I saw a happy young couple leaving the Wedding Chapel, being followed by one of the ship’s photographers. The bride was beautiful in her long white dress and gossamer veil, the groom looked uncomfortable in his suit but incredibly happy. I suppose they tied the not today, as tonight is one of the Formal Nights aboard the ship, so everybody aboard will be dressed smartly, not just the happy couple’s and their respective families. Also ship’s photographers had set up various interesting backdrops for formal photos for other passengers later tonight, so the locations for wedding photos are already in place.
Weddings aboard can only happen during days at sea. A wise Bride-to-Be must have to pack a second Wedding Dress, identical except for being a couple of sizes bigger than the original just in case the marriage ceremony is delayed until the latter part of the cruise. Under those circumstances, she might still fit into the original dress, but it is unlikely. Imagine what a miserable time she would have if she had to deny herself all the wonderful food that is on offer 24/7 in an attempt to get into her bridal gown.
When I went on my first cruise back in 1994, it would be very unusual for the Dress Code for the evening meal to be Casual. Most nights were either Formal were the men wore their dinner suits and the ladies wore their best frocks, or Semi-Formal where the men wore suit and ties and the women wore cocktail dresses. And to be perfectly honest, I think I preferred it like that. Far too many men on the cruise wore ordinary suits on the formal nights, even five years ago that would not have been tolerated. I am now going to shock people who know me, or have read this web log on a regular basis, but this has to be said. In my opinion, and I am no Trinny or Suzzanna, on formal nights dresses should have full length skirts with hemlines that brush the deck, miniskirts are just not acceptable. For me, formal equals elegance and subtly, and whilst a dress with a short skirt might be elegant it is not by any stretch of the imagination subtle.
Day 12: Wednesday, 12th August, 2009 – Gibraltar
Way back in 1706, the Spanish Crown gave Britain the Rock of Gibraltar and the small strip of land next to it. At the time it was worthless farmland. The British turned it into one of the most strategically important naval bases in the World, and imported people from all over Britain and its Empire to live and work in what became a small but very British town. Once the Spaniards realized what a mistake they had made, they tried to get Gibraltar back. Well, no dice, you gave it to us, its ours. Gibraltar will remain British forever.
What really gets me is the two-facedness of the Spanish. Spain would never give up sovereignty of Cueta (the other Pillar of Hercules) on the African side of the Straits of Gibraltar or Melillia a few miles down the Moroccan coast, because the residents of these cities want to remain Spanish. Morocco would dearly love these two cities back under its sovereignty, but the Spanish say the wishes of the people living there is paramount. And yet, Spain expects very British inhabitants of Gibraltar, who have no historical or cultural ties to Spain to quietly become Spaniards.
On the way back to the ship after visiting the summit of the Rock, we passed a number of pub with signs outside advertising “British Fish and Chips”, and Andy could not understand why? I pointed out that technically were were back in Britain. These signs were there to remind any foreigners who come across the border from Spain that they are now in Britain and that will always remain British.
Andy and the Little Monkeys
Today myself, Andy, Tom and the two Jameses took a trip up the cable-car from outside the
Almeida Botanical Gardens to the summit of the Rock. The trip departed at 11.30am from the ship, and we were taken from the rendezvous in the Princess Theatre to a mini-bus for the short trip from the Port to the Cable-Car base station. Thom said that it was obvious that we were back under British Jurisdiction, whilst the mini-bus waited in traffic because we were encountering traffic congestion and roadworks. We had been given our pre-purchased ticket by the mini-bus driver, but for some strange reason instead of queuing directly for the cable car, we had to wait in the same as people who had to buy their tickets to the summit. This was truly stupid. We had our tickets, there should have been a separate line for us to wait for the next available cable car, whilst those people who did not have a pre-purchased ticket waited in a second line.The views from the top of the Rock were absolutely stunning. Africa was clearly visible across the Water, and I could see exactly why Tariq ibn Zeyad chose it as his beachhead for the invasion of Spain, all those centuries ago.
Gibraltar, at the southernmost tip of Western Europe is the only place on the entire continent that has any sort of wild monkey or ape. The Rock is home to about sixty Barbary Apes. There is a superstition that states that if the Ravens leave the Tower of London, the castle will collapse. A similar superstition has grown up around the Barbary Apes, and it is said if they were to die out, the British would lose sovereignty over the Rock. During the Second World War, when it looked as if the Apes were dying out, Winston Churchill had more animal imported from Africa in order to prevent a morale draining propaganda disaster.
An Ape with the Grand Princess in the Background
“Having seen the Apes live in the flesh, I cannot say I was greatly impressed. They are nasty vicious little creatures. Despite the fact that they have a regular supply of food, will steal anything that looks mildly edible from tourists. When not stealing from tourists, they will bite them for any reason. If these creatures were not such a draw for the tourists, then they would have been declared vermin by the human inhabitants and eradicated a long time ago.
After the trip up the Rock, we all headed down the main street to look in the shops. I bought a copy of The Daily Mirror in a newsagent at the top of the main street. The first time I have seen British news since the cruise started. It used to be that British newspapers on sale in Spain would be a day out of date because of the time it took to get the printed paper from Britain. These days, an edition of most British Newspapers are printed in Spain, as computer technology means it is easy to send the paper for printing to presses anywhere in the World. However, it was obvious that this was not an UK edition of the paper, as it had many inside pages printed in Black and White, where as the UK editions are 100% colour throughout.
Eat First with Your Eyes : Steak – Medium Rare
I have been learning Welsh since last September. Back in June, I sat an exam for the Lefel Mynediad course and had been waiting for the result. A few days earlier, I had received a text from Sue McMillan, the course tutor, asking if I had received the result yet, to which I had replied “on i ddim, dw i’n ar fy ngwyliau.” which means “I don’t know, I’m on my holidays.”. Anyway, this morning, whilst on top of the Rock of Gibraltar, I got a reply to the reply. “Llongyfarchiadau John. 352/400 da iawn ti!”, which in English says “Congratulations John. 352/400 well done you!”. So not only was I on top of the Rock, I was on top of the World to. So to celebrate I wanted to do something special. So that evening, after the Grand Princess had left Gibraltar and begun the final leg of the journey, I went with my mother to The Painted Desert Steakhouse on Deck #7.
The meal I had in the Painted Desert was no exception. For starters I had a prawn salad which was stunning, then I had a 14oz Rib Eye steak, medium rare that melted in the mouth and finally had an incredible desert. One of my mother’s favourite phrases is “I eat with my eyes”, in other words the presentation of a meal is as important as food itself. As you can se from the photo on the left, as well as tasting divine, the steak looked marvelous when it was presented on the dining table.
The food on this cruise was absolutely stunning. I had not been over impressed by the catering on the Emerald Princess the previous year, but this cruise has restored my faith in Princess Cruises. Last year, I read a copy of the Berlitz Cruise Guide 2008, which had really slated the food in the Princess Fleet. I should imagine that that poor review was the catalyst for the improvement this year.
Days 13 and 14: 13th and 14th August, 2009 – At Sea
One last formal night followed by a day for packing and winding down. Packing is never the most pleasant of activities, but without the hassle of a flight after disembarkation, it certainly was less fraught than it could have been. The weather on Day 13 was still very pleasant, but on day 14, in the English Channel it was a bit grey and cold, so all the internal areas were packed. There were 2,600 passengers aboard the Grand Princess, and for the first time I could believe it. Where had all these people been hiding over the past two weeks?
Disembarkation: Saturday, 15th August, 2009 – Southampton
At a little after 8am, the Grand Princess tied up at the Mayflower Terminal in Southampton Docks. By this point, we had already vacated the staterooms that had been our home for Voyage A918. Breakfast was a pretty dour affair. One last binge at the Horizon Court. Then sitting on a table at the stern of the ship, looking out over a grey and sullen English August morning. My mother had a nasty shock when she opened her yoghurt and discovered a ring of green mould growing on the top . The ship would be fully restocked today, but they still should have taken care with what supplies remained aboard. This added to the general gloom of the morning.
There was no messing around this year with the Platinum Disembarkation Lounge, the Captain Circle’s representative was on the ball. Not that we had chance to get overly comfortable in the Vista Lounge (I wonder if it used to be the XP Lounge, and will soon be the Seven Lounge. Sorry, I know I am a geek). Our disembarkation tag colour was called, and the family was escorted of the ship for the last time.
It is a mystery to me how cases that were all collected from the Stateroom together the previous night and all had the same disembarkation tags on them could possibly have ended up so spread out in the luggage claim hall. However, after the short delay finding our luggage, the party broke up and my mother and I headed home on the Traveland bus, whilst Janet and her family went home by car.
The slogan of Princess Cruises is “Escape Completely” and in order for her passengers to do this the Staff and Crew of the Grand Princess work like the devil. And when I say work I mean really work. From the moment they get up in the morning to when they go to bed at night, the people working aboard seem to be doing something to make the passengers cruise holiday experience that much better. So I would like to thank everybody aboard the Grand Princess who helped me to escape completely from my everyday life and made my recent holiday such a memorable experience.