Wednesday, 29 March 2017

“Home James - and Don’t Spare the Horses!”

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We left the Caribbean behind on our final island departure from St. Maarten. There’s always a great camaraderie between ships in port and each of us wave farewell and wish the other a safe voyage as we set sail.

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The Captain’s cocktail party on this cruise was held in the ship’s atrium. This pic was taken before it started as there’s so many people at the event you can’t really see the atrium at all!

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During the Captain’s party we met up with friend Allison, who we last spent time with on the beach in Barbados. She was wearing more clothes on this occasion – including all her ‘officer’s gold’!

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On our second formal evening Doug decided to wear his Indian made “Modi” suit. Our Indian restaurant manager was delighted to give him permission to wear it during the evening of course and it was a sensation with all the Indian waiters! He’s holding the bottle of Champagne, given to us by a couple of ship’s officer friends as a ‘welcome aboard’ gift ………

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……. and which we shared with our delightful dining friends Anita and Alan.

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The very elegant Anita, and Doug, make up the ‘terrible two’ on this cruise!

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After five relaxing sea days we made landfall in Ponta Delgada in the Portuguese volcanic archipelago of the Azores.  Anyone who knows James will know he likes his boat paintwork kept up. “Azura” is no exception so he asked for some touching up to be done as he didn’t want to arrive in Southampton with scratches!

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Ponta Delgada, the capital, and situated on the island of Sao Miguel is the cleanest place we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. If anyone could find a piece of litter or a cigarette end they’d be a very fussy person.

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Here’s Doug outside the St Bras Fort.  The grass everywhere is beautifully kept.

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Anchors aweigh! There’s a plethora of old ship’s relics dotted around the town and quayside.

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Here’s James trying to look nonchalant against the sea wall ……..

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…….. and Doug doing the same against the backdrop of the harbour.

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A close-up of Ponta Delgada harbour and waterfront with “Azura” dominating all around her as usual.

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The streets are narrow and perfectly paved and, again, not a piece of litter in sight.

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‘Ponta’ is very reminiscent of Funchal on Madeira and Lisbon in Portugal. Black and white buildings and tessellated streets and pavements.

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We’re not usually given a great deal of time in the Azores and, with the unpredictable weather associated with the islands, we don’t normally venture away from ‘Ponta’. On this occasion the weather turned out to be very pleasant but, after our extremely enjoyable walk around the town, we settled for a sojourn in one of our favourite little bars. This one has a hole in the wall which allows James to keep an eye on what’s happening in the street.

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Situated in the Atlantic Ocean, on the same latitude as Lisbon, the Azores enjoy a temperate climate similar to southern England. This Hottentot Fig, in full bloom, is a favourite of ours in our own garden.

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The town is punctuated with lovely small open squares, in this case with lawns and perfectly pruned trees.

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And talking of perfect pruning!

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The beautiful front fa├žade of College Church.

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Narrow streets (normally with fewer parked cars!), old houses with balconies and the clock tower of the 16th century church of Sao Sebastiao looking on. 

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The parish church of Sao Sebastiao and it’s adjoining piazza.

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The street with our little bar at the top!

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Arches supporting buildings over a narrow street leading to the quay.

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Our relaxing day in Pont Delgada came to an end and James realised he’d lost his cruise card when he was asked to show it before getting on the ship. There’s no chance of getting on the ship without one and so he had to wait (only ten minutes – bless the ship’s company!) while a new one was produced. This was his view on a chilly quayside while he waited!

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As the Azores was our last port of call before reaching Southampton it was with the “Great British Sail Away” party that we said good bye once again to this lovely part of the world.

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We’ve drunk a great deal of Champagne on this cruise (what changes?) and this sail away party was no exception for us. Our lovely friend Dolreich, who happened to have been detailed to work on “Azura” for this leg, took this picture for us (James is going to need to do something about that foot!).

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And here is Dolreich with Doug!

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As “Azura” left its berth the pilot boat followed us out to collect the pilot from the ship once he was happy that we were on our way,

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This is what happens when rough seas are expected. Everything is tightly lashed down and to see this sight inevitably means a stormy night ahead!

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The pilot is collected from the ship and, with a wave to send us on our way, he’s taken back to port. There’s Doug leaning over the ship’s rail on the left.

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Our last view of the Sao Miguel island as we continue on our northeast course across the Atlantic …….

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……. and this will be our view ahead for the next three days.

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The ships engines were on full power as the Captain tried to outrun the impending storm. There’s usually not much coming out of the exhausts but on this occasion there was evidence of the Captain putting his foot down!

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The “Great British Sail Away” party was in full swing around one of the ship’s four swimming pools. “Rule Britannia”, “Land of Hope and Glory”, “Jerusalem” and The National Anthem were among some of the songs belted out as we started our final leg of the voyage.

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There are some great views to had while wandering around the ship. This is a great one of the port side Bridge wing protruding over the side of the ship.

Well, we’re on our way to Southampton after a very relaxing cruise. We have a new Caribbean island, St Kitts, (and certainly one of the nicest) to add to our list. We’ve caught up with some lovely crew friends again and got to know some new ones of course! We’ve had a great dining experience each evening with Alan and Anita and our table waiters Franky and Arvin. Enjoyed some great entertainment from the Headliners Theatre company with our friend James Matthew-Hughes as one of the singer / dancers. James has learnt new things about World War battles and forensic science by attending  lectures and Doug has won a shuffle board competition and organised all the afternoon whist gatherings. A number of Indian crew members, who are friends of people we know in Goa, have made themselves known to us and we’ve met up with a few people we’ve cruised with before. People on the various islands we’ve visited have remembered us from the past and the world has become even smaller for us than before. We now return home to what might be a busy year ahead.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Further Tales of Four Islands.

The last two islands of our Caribbean cruise (before heading north west on our Atlantic crossing) were St Kitts and St Maarten.

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As we disembarked from the ship on the beautiful island of St Kitts the pelicans welcomed us by a marvellous display by diving into the sea for fish. One of them, obviously full of fish, retired to a perch to dry his wings.

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The island is remarkably similar in shape to a chicken drumstick and the chunky main portion is dominated in the middle by two mountain ranges and, as it’s only 68 square miles in area, there’s not a lot of room around the edges. There are many timber framed shacks – most in quite good condition, which add great atmosphere to the island.

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We hired a car to journey around what is basically just a coast road around the entire island. We stopped for some sustenance in Cayon at a quaint little bar with an open air ‘restaurant’ on the side.

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The roads are very good in general and give coastal views most of the time. The grass verges everywhere are beautifully kept for a reason that we discovered later.

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The island is dominated at it’s northwest end by Mt. Liamuiga – a dormant volcano 3790 feet high.

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Little communities sit side by side with the volcano which hasn’t erupted for a very long time.

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Also running around the island is the narrow gauge railway. Now a popular tourist attraction, it was originally built to haul sugar cane from the numerous plantations to Basseterre, the capital.

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Gorgeous sea views ………

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……… with the coastal land, and the odd building, being generally windswept by Atlantic gales.

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Being a volcanic island much of the coast is dark and rocky ……….

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……… or black sand.

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Further along on our journey around the island we found why the grass verges are kept so good – herds of goats!

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Overlooking the west coast, 800 feet above sea level on a volcanic outcrop, is the massive fortress of Brimstone Hill. Started by the French in 1690 it was completed a century later by the British.

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Here and there we passed some very pretty traditional island buildings – this one in need of some TLC.

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After we’d travelled around the “meaty” bit of the island we ventured down onto the southeast peninsular where the beaches are of a more gentle colour.

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Doug had a dip in warm waters with the tiny island of Nevis in the distance.

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Driving back from the peninsular two monkeys crossed the road in front of us. We managed to take a pic of one of them as it tried to hide from us in some bushes.

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We stopped near Bird Rock to look back along the very dramatic peninsular where it’s easy to see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

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The Anglican church of St.George in Basseterre is a very British looking structure – well kept, like everything on the island.

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We shared the port quay with “Adventure of the Seas” – it was a bit like seeing beauty and the beast! So glad we were on the ‘pretty’ ship!

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Well, we had a long and very pleasant day on the lovely island of St.Kitts and the sun set over the capital of Basseterre before we left at 9:30 in the evening to set sail for our final port of call – St.Maarten.

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We’ve been to St.Maarten (the island split into two halves – the Dutch and the French) quite a few times before . As we didn’t have a huge amount of time we opted to go to “airplane beach” for a bit of fun. This is where the airport is so close to the beach that the thrust from the plane’s engines, as they take off, is enough to blow people into the sea! ………

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….. and, when they come in to land they sometimes skim very close to the heads of the people on the beach. The bigger the planes the sooner they need to get down and the lower they come in! Great fun to watch!

St. Maarten was the last of the four islands on our Caribbean sojourn and after we set sail from the island we were to head northeast across the Atlantic and towards home. We look forward to our days at sea and we have five to enjoy before reaching the Azores.