Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Muscat and Khor Fakkan.

Life on the ocean wave over the last few days has been great fun (as always) with much going on both inside and out on deck.

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The Champagne / cocktail parties just don’t stop – here’s Doug, at the Cunard World Club cocktail party with Henry Wasserfall, Guest Services Manager who, with Hazel Stewart, has made a host of special things happen for us on this cruise.

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We were invited by friends to visit them in one of the Royal Suits which have a great view at the front of the ship ………

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……. and while we were there we had a good view of one of the very impressive vessels which form part of the security cover and keep us safe in the dangerous waters.

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Socialising goes on well after midnight usually.  Here’s Doug with one of the most glamorous and gracious ladies on the ship – Glenda, from Texas, a spritely, fun loving lady heading towards a major birthday with a very high number. 

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We’ve been taking part in a decathlon event over the last week at the end of which we enjoyed a Champagne fuelled presentation ceremony.  Here’s the winning team and surprisingly (as with the recent “Olympics” event) we were in it!

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Even more Champagne (well, it’s rude not to accept the invitations!) – this time for elite Cunard travellers (a club to which we do not belong but we had an invitation none-the-less). We’re with Chris Hamilton, the very talented guest pianist on this leg of the cruise. 

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After 10 days at sea we eventually managed to get our feet on terra firma when we arrived at Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman on Tuesday. We had a very pleasant and relaxed mooch about this ancient port ……

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……. visiting the huge Souk was a great experience with the most amazing array of things on offer.

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Like always, we enjoy wandering away from the tourist areas a bit and into the areas where the locals do their shopping.

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There was a lot of interesting architecture in the old city and the colours of some of the buildings were really beautiful.

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We spent the day in Muscat with George McGhee, the ship’s guest speaker on films and film stars.

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Doug decided he’d like to look more like one of the locals – so he had a head dress fitted!

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Afternoon tea – and here’s George with “a local?”

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We met up with fellow passenger Patrick Anthony, now retired but well known for his early presentation of “Ready Steady Cook” and reading the news.  Here we are,  George, Patrick, some local resident of Muscat(!) and James on the roof terrace of the Marina Hotel ………

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……… with a wonderful panorama view of the harbour and city.

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Zooming in a bit we got a good view of the Sultan of Oman’s new yacht.  His old one (just as nice!) is still in the harbour. The yacht came out to sea to greet us this morning and escorted us into port. We guess the Sultan knew about it!

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The skyline of the city from the Marina Hotel terrace ………

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…….. and – it’s not really a local of Muscat, it’s Doug.

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Today (Wednesday) we arrived in Khor Fakkan, UAE.  The emirate of Sharjah imposes a total ban on the sale and consumption of alcohol but that didn’t stop us from enjoying ourselves.  We climbed aboard a bus laid on by the Oceanic Hotel and, for a very reasonable fee, had full use of the pool facilities and their beach ………

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…….. and a splendid buffet lunch.  Here’s our little group of cruising friends - Fran, Geoff, Glenn, Pam and Doug having an air-conditioned break from the heat outside.

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As we’re learning, everything in the UAE seems to be cleaned and polished to perfection and very nice everything is too.  We had a great day getting a good tan in the sunshine and swimming in the warm waters of the sea and the pool before returning to the ship.

We’re coming to the end of our cruise as we’ll be berthing in Dubai tomorrow.  It’s been a month since we embarked in New York and a lot of water has passed under the hull since then.  Hopefully we haven’t put on any weight but we have four days in Dubai before being able to weigh ourselves back home! 

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?