Saturday, 31 January 2015

Now it’s Dubai, as we disembark QM2.


We left Khor Fakkal on Wednesday evening with the surrounding mountains looking absolutely splendid.


As an aside – we’ve been extoling the virtues of the wonderful Hazel Stewart, (Events manager) who’s done such a lot for us during our cruise – well here she is!  Definitely a rose between two thorns!


Waking up in Dubai on Thursday morning to a very hazy atmosphere there were two special points of reference for photos – firstly (in the distance) we could just make out the funnel and some of the superstructure of the beloved old QE2.  We’re informed she’s now just lingering in her berth with nothing happening to her.


Secondly, the futuristic and spectacular skyline of Dubai looking very dramatic through the haze.


Catching the shuttle from the cruise terminal and ending up in the Dubai Mall 45 minutes later we had a walk around until we realised we could carry on walking forever and not see it all.  Not being great shoppers (well Doug isn’t!) we quickly treated ourselves to an iPad in the sales and then rested up with a superb coffee. The gargantuan aquarium is quite spectacular and most of it can be seen from the shopping mall without paying to go in.


Next to the Dubai Mall is the vast area of water in front of the vast Burj Khalifa.  It’s the tallest building in the world and every single foot of it says so!  James thinks it’s the most beautiful building he’s ever seen – it’s sheer size and simplicity of design has just about reached perfection and you just can’t stop looking at it.


Other buildings surrounding “The Burj” are also very beautiful ……..


……….. and very inspiring.


Other construction around the lake is more traditional and much more on a human scale.


We are not quite sure of the timings but the dancing fountains in the lake started at 1:30pm.  The main performances take place after dark and and we’re looking forward to seeing them again.


Perhaps a better pic. of The Burj Khalifa with a few palms thrown in to soften the edges.


Although we were spending our last night on QM2 on Thursday we popped in to check on the hotel which will be our home for next four nights. Now - due to a hiccup in communications we could not make contact with two canal boat friends who we knew we would overlap in Dubai for this one day.  Cosmic coincidence can be the only explanation why Ian and Irene (nb Free Spirit) walked through the hotel door within 5 minutes of us leaving to go back to the ship! Our shrieks of delight and surprise as the four of us spied each other brought stares from everyone in the hotel. Ian and Irene have been staying in the hotel for the last few days (just as we are doing) between their cruise and flying home. Our plans for the rest of the evening came to an abrupt end as all settled in for a drink and a long chat.


Another pic. (spot the difference!) just to capture the momentousness of the meeting.


Eventually getting back to our “home” for the very last night, we found QM2 (at last!) in the perfect position for a photo.  It couldn’t have been better, with the sunset behind and with her lights on she looked absolutely brilliant.  A few days ago we were very fortunate to get a ‘back of house’ tour of this fantastic liner.  There is another world, just as large as the one the passengers occupy, within this ship and it was an enormous privilege to be able to see so much behind the scenes. Just seeing lights behind the holes where the ropes disappear reminds us that we’ve been in that rope room!

Well, it’s au revoir QM2 – our home for the last month. After more than 6000 miles we leave her to continue her World Voyage as we look forward to a few more days in Dubai.

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.


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.


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 ………


……. 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.


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. 


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!


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. 


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 ……


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 ………


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


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!


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


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


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 ………


…….. 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.


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)


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


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 ………


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


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


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 ……..


……… 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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.    


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


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


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


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.


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!)


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


……… 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. 


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.