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A long time without landing – At Sea
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Wed 18 Dec ’13 – day 4  Today was the first of four ‘at sea’ days, the most time I have ever spent without docking while on a Mediterranean cruise.  Having passed Cabo Finisterre the ship was now on a southerly heading paralleling the coast of first Spain and then Portugal.

The first task today was to do the washing and ironing, so I was in the laundry as soon as it opened and within 1½ hours everything was done and back on hangers or in the drawers.

Now it was time for the mornings Individual Quiz which was held every sea day in the Lords Tavern, the ships pub; today’s topic was ‘Food & Drink’, not my favourite subject but I had a go.  Amazed myself by getting 16 questions correct out of the 20 asked, but two people knew all the answers so there had to be a tie-breaker – “When did Marco Pierre-White open his first restaurant?”  1987 apparently.

I saw the coast on our port side as we progressed southwards; the sun was out but it was still cool and the swell had died down but the ship was still pitching slightly, however nothing like it had been on Sunday evening and all day on Monday.

It was time for a mid-morning drink so I headed to Reception to get the ships newspaper plus the daily Sudoku and then went to the Tiffany Court where there is a Costa Coffee.  Here I ordered a cappuccino and blueberry muffin, my regular pick me up and then read the newspaper, Ashes lost and Chelsea lose, before completing the Sudoku – not a difficult one today.

At 12:00 hours, the Officer of the Watch gave his daily update on the navigational progress and then weather conditions for the remainder of the day; he advised that the ship was still heading in a southerly direction and was currently 38 nautical miles south-west of Lisbon, where we will be spending New Year’s Eve.

Having spent a few hours on the computer I then wandered around the ship taking pictures of things of interest, including the art class before having a very late lunch in the Conservatory.  I saw Carol so sit down and we caught up on what we had been doing in the ten years since we last cruised together.  This took up a pleasurable couple of hours and then it was time to retire to my cabin before getting ready for the Captains Welcome On-board Party.

The ship was now on a south-easterly heading having rounded Cabo de Sáo Vicente and later this evening we will pass Cabo Trafalgar, both of these locations are sites of famous British naval victories.

After a snooze I had a shower before donning my dinner jacket, but instead of a black tie I am proudly wearing my RAF bow tie and cummerbund.

I had my photo taken with the Executive Purser, Helen, before entering the Crow’s Nest Bar to have a drink and listen to the Captains welcome on-board speech.  These are very predictable in content, but each Captain gives it his own touch so that it always sounds fresh.  Having had a couple of G&T’s in the company of Gemma I made my way down to dinner and to my pleasant surprise Carol was one of my dining companions.  There are still two people missing and I ask the Restaurant Manager whether Jackie and Peter can join us; he was going to make some enquires about the two non-attendees and will let us know tomorrow night.

After another excellent meal I had a night cap in my favourite bar before retiring for the night.

 

Thu 19 Dec ‘13 – day 5 The ship passed through the Straits of Gibraltar at 02:00 hours this morning as we left the Atlantic Ocean and entered the Mediterranean Sea; the ship was in the traffic separation system which has all east-bound vessels on the African side of the waterway.  If you had been up the lights of Tangier would have on the starboard side, with Gibraltar eight or so miles away on the other side of the Strait.

I had a great night’s sleep and woke feeling refreshed and the first order of the day was to wash and iron my dress shirt ready for the next formal night which is tomorrow – it was a job quickly done.

At 08:55 hours the Officer of the Watch gave his usual morning update on the ships navigational progress and the weather forecast and informed us that we are heading east some 35 miles south of the Spanish coast.  It was overcast and likely to remain so, but the temperature was rising, if a little too slowly for the passengers who want to be able to sit out on deck.

I missed my usual coffee and blueberry muffin this morning as I would be attending the Peninsular Club lunch today being held in the Oriental Restaurant for the Baltic and Ligurian members, the most regular cruisers.  So I spent the rest of the morning in the cyb@study doing more work on my computer before returning to my cabin to get changed.

Dr Jean-Claude Revel, the ships senior doctor, was the host at our table for six and the others are a married couple, Mr & Mrs Woods, two ladies Betty Smith (no relation) and Freda Bristow.  This is the first time that I had met any of my table companions and lunch is a convivial affair especially as the wine kept on flowing.

Having changed, I returned to the cyb@study and did some more work on the computer.

The sun was out and so passengers have gravitated to the open decks and the temperature had risen sufficiently for some people to be sitting in short sleeves.

A late afternoon sleep was in order before I got ready for dinner – it’s all go when you are cruising!!

The dress code for this evening was ‘Smart’ so for gents this means a jacket and tie; I select the very garish tie that I bought in the Crescent City Brewhouse when New Orleans was one of the ports of call on the Azura Christmas & New Year cruise in 2010 / 11.  I had dinner in the Brewhouse and made my way back to my cabin in the early hours of the morning having listened to a very good night of jazz.

Tonight is not as exciting as that, but the dinner is good and I am reducing what I consume so that I do not get the cruisers disease – a large increase in weight!!

I forgo watching any of the entertainment as I am feeling tired, so have a relatively early night.

 

Fri 20 Dec ’13 – day 6   I woke after a good night’s sleep and having quickly done the washing and ironing – a never ending task, it was time for a cappuccino and blueberry muffin while I completed my daily dose of Sudoku.

A stroll around the Sun Deck clears any cobwebs from the system and with the sun out and the temperature on the rise, it was a pleasant way to stretch my legs.

More time is spent in the cyb@study as I do some rugby work on the computer and its then time for lunch.  Chicken Jalfreizi is on the menu so I have a small portion followed by some fresh fruit.

During the afternoon the weather took a turn for the worse with an increase in wind speed and the sea state getting a little rougher, so when these are combined with an overcast sky the open decks emptied and everyone was taking shelter in the warm.

I settled down in the Crow’s Nest Bar and start to catch up on my reading but begun to feel slightly weary so retired to my cabin for a short snooze.  It was then back to the cyb@study to do some more work on my computer – this is a never ending task as I try to collate and update the historical records of the RAFRU.

The engineers have replaced my fridge as it was not working and the ice melted before I could use it to have a G&T while getting dressed for dinner – yet another Black Tie night, but the last before Christmas Day.

The sea state would appear to have moderated again as the glasses are steady on the table and at the end of dinner I treated myself to a small port with my stilton and biscuits.

 

Sat 21 Dec ’13 – day 7   During the night the ship passed to the north of Sicily so Stromboli, the most active volcano in Europe would have been on the port beam.  The ship then turned to starboard and entered the Messina Straits the waterway between Sicily and the mainland; the trains from Rome and Naples are loaded onto ferries at Villa San Giovanni to cross the Straits and unloaded at Messina before they go on to either Palermo or Syracuse.  South of Messina is Mount Etna and even in the daylight you can usually see the plume of steam coming from the volcano.  We shall be returning this way on during the afternoon on Christmas Day and so hopefully we will be able to see both the volcanos.

I awoke and pulled back the curtains to be greeted by the sight of a calm sea and the Italian mainland away on the horizon.  It is cool as I made a turn around the decks and there were only a few people up, either having breakfast in the Conservatory, or sitting in the Crow’s Nest Bar watching as the ship make its progress towards the Strait of Taranto which separates Italy and Albania and is the entrance to the Adriatic Sea.

Work in the cyb@study took up the morning until the Officer of the Watch noon announcement; the ship was 31 nautical miles southwest of Cap San Maria di Leuca on the heel of Italy and heading in a north-easterly direction.

The weather had brighten up and if you were in the sun and out of the breeze it actually felt quite warm; numerous people had found such a spot and were reading or doing some other activity, with a few gents having removed their shirts in order to try and get a tan.

Having had my post lunch snooze I returned to the cyb@study and did some more work; with the sun streaming through the windows, I could get a tan without having to brave the open decks.

There were a number of small ships making their way along and we dwarfed them all as we steam passed at considerable speed.  In order to be able to get to Venice before the work on the flood defences caused the port to be closed, the ship had to crack on as we needed to arrive nineteen hours earlier than scheduled.  So the Chief Engineer had opened the throttles and we had been averaging over twenty one knots for the last three days; the downside to this was that the fuel consumption had increased significantly.

Having entered the Adriatic Sea we spent the afternoon paralleling the coast as we headed northwards.

As soon as the sun went in the temperature dropped quickly so the decks emptied quite rapidly as people headed inside to the many public areas or back to their cabins.  We passed Bari on the portside as dusk fell and the cities lights can be seen twinkling away on the horizon.

The individual general knowledge quiz takes place every day in Tiffany’s at 17:30 hours and was usually very well attended; I sat with Jackie and Peter at the bar and had a cappuccino while the questions are called out.  I got just eleven right, but the winner had only answered fourteen questions correctly, so a relatively difficult quiz today.

Jackie and Peter joined us on Table 51 tonight, so for the first time on this cruise all the seats were full; four ladies, an equal number of gents and all single, so a very balanced seating arrangement.  The amount of empty seats in the restaurant is something that I have never seen before, but according to Robert, the Maître ‘d, first sitting was completely full and a number of people have been moved to the Peninsular Restaurant as they don’t like being at the rear of the ship because of the engine noise.

I had an early night as I plan to spend the greater portion of tomorrow ashore wandering the streets and alleys of Venice.