Sunday, 25 January 2015

Suez Canal (by night!)

We’ve had a bit of a delay in our progress as we arrived at Port Said.  We had to wait almost a day before being given permission by the Egyptian authorities to enter the Suez Canal.  When we were finally able to proceed we were one of fifteen large vessels in our southbound convoy. One of the casualties of the delay was that we traversed the canal in the dark which mightily choked off most of the passengers! (including ourselves who’d really looked forward to seeing at least some of it in the daylight)

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However, after dinner on Thursday evening we went up on top deck with Fran and Glenn to witness what we could in the darkness.

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It was still an amazing sight to be on the huge ship travelling at 8 knots through a relatively narrow concrete trough. Here at El Qantra Gharb the houses come right down the edge of the canal ………

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………. and, if the Captain had slowed down a bit, we might have been able to watch this football match.

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Memories of New York’s Verrazano narrows bridge came to mind as we just made it under the El Qantra Gharb road bridge.

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It was mighty scary stuff at the front of the ship with these two searchlights doing almost nothing!  However, the captain seemed to know what he was doing because at 6 0’ clock on Friday morning ……..

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……… we left the canal and entered the Gulf of Suez.  It was no different at this end either as the place was packed with large cargo vessels waiting to form a northbound convoy.

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Queen Mary 2 is an extremely manoeuvrable ship and she was able to swing speedily between the anchored ships before she entered the less cluttered waters of the Gulf.

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At 6:30 we were able to watch the sunrise.  Sadly the dramatic colours can’t be truly reproduced in this shot.

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A second casualty of this week’s delay was that we have missed the slot into Aqaba and the excursion to Petra. We’d decided, on this occasion, not to visit the ruins but to spend the day in Aqaba but 1400 passengers were, rightly, most put out.  With a hastily arranged port visit to Muscat in Oman in lieu of Aqaba still days away, we’ll have been permanently at sea for 10 days!  The Atlantic crossing only takes seven!  All is not lost by any means though, as we’re enjoying temperatures in the mid to high 20’s as we sail through a very calm Red Sea.  The steel band plays on the stern of the ship and the lily-white bodies are being poached and fried to perfection.

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The Champagne receptions still keep coming (this one in the Clarendon gallery) here we are with Pam and Geoff – two people who are making life aboard even nicer for us.

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There have been some very late evenings recently and one or two have been enjoyed in the company of guest speaker George McGhee who’s talks on film and film stars have been a real sensation during the cruise.

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Today (Saturday) we left the Red Sea and sailed out into the Gulf of Aden with the Yemen close by on our port side.

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The ship’s company set into motion some days ago safeguards against the attack by pirates in the area.  The Royal Navy are aboard and we’ve all rehearsed what we need to do if things get dodgy.  There are lookouts posted on all four corners of the ship and there are sonic projectors (the big black thing) positioned around ready to burst the eardrums of anyone silly enough to come too close.  However, the shear size and speed of the vessel is probably enough to make would be pirates think again.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Almost back on the Canal!

On Monday we (or we should really say, the ship’s officers on the bridge) tackled the very narrow Straights of Messina.  It must have been a terrific sight from both Italy and Sicily to see this huge ship dwarf everything around it as it wound it’s way between them.

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This is our first siting of Sicily and the “toe” of Italy. Halfway between Doug’s head and the left of the pic. a metal tower can just be seen. That marks the nearest part of Sicily to the mainland and was used to string a cable across to bring power to the island. Now no longer in use.

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There was lots of excitement on the ship as we negotiated the Straights.  Here, at the front of the ship we’re kept company by the “Commodore’s Cufflinks” – the four spare propellers which are neatly ‘stored’ on the front of the ship as an art form.    

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Nearer to Sicily and we could clearly see the huge tower which took the power cable across.

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With the toe of Italy in the background here’s Doug with Kreston (no spelling error!) who we play darts and table tennis with. 

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We were close enough to Sicily to enjoy some of the very old buildings of Messina.

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We needed a pilot on board to get us safely through the Straights of Messina and we happened to be around when the boat came to retrieve him back to the mainland.  The water was very choppy and James managed to video the action as the boat approached the ship and the pilot made his way down the rope ladder to jump aboard his boat.  A hair raising sight to watch but one which the pilot probably takes in his stride. P1000278

Just to prove the pilot made it safely – he’s the one wearing the red jacket.

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Our table is getting quite crowded at dinner as the circle of friends increases. William, Michael, Anna, Glenn, Fran, Doug, James, Jen and Justin (and uncle Tom Cobbley an’ all!)

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As we head further south and the weather improves we can enjoy more strenuous deck games ……… such as this volleyball match.

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……… but inside the ship there are still some excellent lectures to be had.  The marvellous Planetarium also provides two or three shows every day.  The huge dish extends from the ceiling and the seats recline to give us the luxury of looking upward to the skies. 

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Arriving at the eastern end of the med on Wednesday we were “obliged” to wait for the Egyptian authorities to give permission to enter the Suez Canal. as it turned out it was almost a day!  There was nothing else for it but to sit on the rear deck in the gorgeous sunshine and quench our thirsts.  We were soon quickly joined by Pam and Geoff (who were tiring of their Queens’ Grill balcony!) and the wonderful Raj, bar steward and all round good chap, who took a few seconds off to pose with us for this pic.

We’re about to enter the Suez Canal at some time in the near future but even the Captain doesn’t know quite when!  The flotilla of ships waiting to enter is growing by the hour – it would be a marvellous site if the heat haze would lift so that we could take a decent photo. 

Sunday, 18 January 2015

When in Rome……

Early on Saturday morning we berthed in Civitavecchia which is the closest deep water port to Rome.  After nearly missing our pre booked train (!) we got to Rome at 10 o’ clock.  The first of our three chosen points of interest, and the one nearest the train station, was the Colosseum.

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The photos will do most of the talking but it was absolutely amazing.  Bigger than we’d thought and far more impressive than could ever be imagined.

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Finding a ticket booth (next to the gateway to the Forum 100 yards away) we bought tickets and got straight in rather than joining the hour long queue to purchase tickets inside the Colosseum!

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It’s difficult to take in that this structure is over 2000 years old.  The hypogeum (the underground bit!) has been partially covered with staging to help give some of the original effect.

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The size of the arena is enormous when you look as size of the people in this pic.  The building was designed to get 50,000 to 70,000 people in and seated within a few minutes.

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The corridors and rooms in the hypogeum were used to house the equipment, animals and men for the games. It had 80 winch operated lifts to raise things up and onto the stage.

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This is the best external view of the Colosseum with the best remaining parts of the structure.

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Walking to our second place of interest, the Trevi Fountain, we passed the Roman Forum which you pay to go into but can see quite clearly from the Via Dei Fori Imperiali.

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Alas, the Trevi Fountain was covered in scaffolding and as dry as a bone!  It has been for almost a year and will be for the next year at least.

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However, we threw a coin onto the concrete in order that (as the saying goes) we will return to the city again.

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Not to be outdone for a good fountain we popped across to the Piazza Navona where the middle fountain of the three in the square is most impressive ……

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……… and where chaps in pink shirts hang about for their photo to be taken.

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Our third and final destination was St Peter’s Basilica and our first view was from the Pont St Angelo across the River Tevere.

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Walking across the bridge you get a fine view of the Castel St Angelo.

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St Peter’s Square and the Basilica is all that it is supposed to be (and more). We were told that the Basilica was enormous and it didn’t disappoint.

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A close up of the Pope’s balcony.

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Inside “breath taking” is one description but it was much more than that. The enormity of the place has to judged by the size of the people again.

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The main Altar directly under the dome ……

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…….. which is awesome like everything else.

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Beneath the main Altar is the tomb of St Peter – shown lit down at the bottom is the Gallus Trophy and below that is the Apostle’s tomb.

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Probably the most inspiring and evocative works of art in the Basilica is the marble sculpture of Mary holding the body of Christ.  It was created by Michelangelo when he was just 23 years old and is said to be the only one of his works to be signed by him.

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A panorama shot inside the Basilica showing the left, central and right naves ….

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……. and, to bring us down to earth, a selfie outside with St peter’s Square in the background.  Very bright sunshine!

We walked a lot of miles and had the most amazing day but we’ve only just scratched the surface of the beautiful city.  Maybe the coin in the fountain will work?

Saturday, 17 January 2015

More Champagne and Barcelona

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Wednesday evening was a hectic time for us.  We were invited to two Champagne parties. Firstly with William and Michael (sadly we have no pics!) and secondly with Pam and Geoff.  Here we are with Geoff, Pam, Fran and Glenn.  

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Oh - and James was there as well!  After the two Champagne parties we were invited to dine with two of the ships officers.  Without doubt we had a wonderful evening all round. (again forgot to take some pictures)

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Thursday saw us in Barcelona (again!) but this lovely city never ceases to entertain us.  We took this panorama pic as we walked over the bridge from the cruise terminal.

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A zoom pic from the same bridge shows the magnificent skyline of the city much better.  The “Mirador de Colom” (the Columbus Column) is on the left with the towers of Cathedral (centre) and multiple towers of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (right).

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The sun shone very brightly on us as we entered the city via the Port Vell area.

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The Columbus Column took our fancy this time around and we were soon paying the very reasonable 4 euros to go the 60 meters to the top (in the very thin lift!).

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The viewing gallery (we were the only ones up there) is just above the coronet and is nice and cosy being enclosed in glass.

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There views are wonderful, as expected, and the Cathedral and Sagrada Familia (behind) are easily picked out.

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A bit further round and we had  a great view of the famous tree lined “Las Ramblas” as it snakes off into the distance.  It’s a big city which now stretches virtually to the mountains in the distance.

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In the other direction is the port – this view is towards Port Vell and the marina.  Sadly QM2 was berthed too far round in the cruise terminal and was hidden behind a building so we couldn’t take a decent photo.  One day we’ll be able to get a proper pic of her.

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Here’s Doug in the column viewing gallery, and although it wasn’t that windy, we could feel the column swaying slightly.  The lift operator (who left us alone at the top and told us to ring the bell when we wanted to be fetched back down!) told us that in windy conditions it moves so much that people have to hold on to the rails when they get to the top.  He’s also used to dealing with panic attacks!

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We spent the rest of the day roaming around and enjoying the ambience of this lovely place.  Las Ramblas, and the city in general, was much quieter than when we were in Barcelona in early December and consequently much more enjoyable.  (Who’s that bloke with the rucksack?)  The Captain gave us a surprise bonus of a very late sail away so we were able to enjoy some Barcelona night life until almost 11 o’ clock.

We have a sea day ahead of us before we get to Civitavecchia where we’ll use the train and visit Rome for the first time.  Excitement indeed!