Wednesday, 21 January 2009


Latest bulletin, composed on the Asus and fed in from a tiny internet cafe in the old city of Bilbao. Cold, wet. Getting into the port was a hoot....we moored up, but the swell was so bad the captain had us moved across into the cargo port (someone said, 'the scrap yard') and that meant waiting for a whole fishing fleet to be shifted, and then a load of cranes. When he announced this over the tannoy, there was a huge derisory (or cheerful) cheer. Some people are getting v angry. Andrew says this is the worst (ie only) bloody cruise he has ever been on. Actually we are enjoying it all now, as things are just one messup after another, but we are still clean and comfy in our cabins, fed with ok meals (VAST choice in many different onboard restaurants, and watching other people consume gargantuan amounts of food.
So it´s mid afternoon Wednesday, we are going to take our first look at the Guggenheim about 10 minutes walk away. I will leave you now with this morning´s missive, written about 10am. No idea when we find another chance to upload some info but I will when we can.
I am adding in a line here - just to say the Guggenheim is great fun, a colossally expensive building patrolled inside by a swarm of beautiful attendants who watch every move you make. I was thrilled that the main exhibit was Cy Twombly whose work I have laughed at for years and really like, and there were a couple of extra permanent installations I liked, but the top floor was closed and we were quite tired, so we only spent a couple of hours there. However the ticket price was reduced because the exhibits were not all open, which was good. The excellent tram service outside runs along through cut grass. There is a brilliant funicular lift on the opposite bank which gives you a fab view of the whole city. And the bars in town are splendid, rich, good to visit.

Bilbao. Blessed sleep during the night. (Deep satisfaction that Barack Obama has been sworn into the US Presidency. The most optimistic thing to happen in my lifetime, possibly). We are docking about midmorning, At the moment I am in the ship's theatre with Andrew listening to a talk about jazz piano.

Yesterday someone said ten people had been taken to hospital at la Coruna. It wouldn't surprise me. The ship is designed like an hotel with great open lounges and spaces so when huge waves rock the ship there is absolutely nothing to hold onto. Since a large proportion of the passenger is elderly, many using sticks or zimmers to get along, things get very dicey. People were falling down all over the place. The cruise director fell down the stairs. (It did not disturb her wig). People with walking sticks are at an advantage possibly for the first time since they bought them. It's simultaneously hilarious and dreadful seeing people falling over or clutching at the air and each other to try to avoid falling. Also, many of the tables are without any of the traditional rims, so that bottles, glasses, plates, cutlery and everything else slides off, and we have broken glass etc to deal with. All this on top of very little sleep for two nights makes for a stressful atmosphere. Most people are showing a stiff upper lip about it, and the crew are fantastic trying to keep things orderly, but things are not great under these circs.

The ship is designed for smooth sailing in calm waters but with increasingly extreme weather events like this no doubt they'll have to rethink the interiors. It is just not safe. The captain held two audiences last night to explain what had been happening. There are not one but two extreme atmospheric lows up near Iceland (975 millibars) and a very long-lasting high down by the Azores at 1035 mb, and these three 'buggers' as he called them combine to force huge highforce winds eastwards towards Europe. It's a very steady and stable system, and unforeseen. I wonder if F. Olsen will offer another cruise in this region at the same time next year?

I want to say a word about the yoga. The ship's daily paper announced yoga classes at each morning at 8am for a fiver. The first morning (Sunday), following no sleep, I doubt if anyone turned up, but there was a meeting called Introduction to Yoga at 11. About 10 of us turned up, men and women, all dressed and ready to go. A smooth Indian physio explained he would teach us all about yoga, and while we sat on the floor he stood and talked through a lot of his proposed curriculum, but he said the five sessions would cost 100 pounds and would be starting the next morning, Ten disappointed calm-seekers slunk away. The next day's bulletin announced the usual class, and with a fanastic effort after another very bad night I went up the six floors (no lift) as the Reception staff assured me it would be at the advertised price. I was the only person and teacher said there would be no class as the gym had been damaged by the storms with windows broken. I asked about the price, and he said the newspaper had had a misprint – it would be twenty pounds a time. The next morning, the paper said nothing about yoga, and we were in la Coruna so everyone was keen to get off the ship, but the teacher rang me in the cabin at 7.30am to encourage me to go along to his class. I declined and went ashore. I think it's crazy to turn away a group of enthusiasts by overpricing.

The piano in this theatre is shot. It is just totally wrecked. No voice left. Nothing in tune. Apparently they told the classical pianist who plays for us every now and then that they had to put it in there in a hurry after the last one fell of the stage and was smashed. Time for a new one I think.

I am hoping to find another internet cafe in Bilbao to feed this into the blog. We'll be here tiill tomorrow afternoon, then setting off for la Rochelle, and then as extras l'Orient and Cherbourg. There has been quite a lot of grumbling about all this, as people have saved up for their trip to the sun (Tangiers and Lisbon) but the great west wind has made that impossible. The shipping line is very concerned that we are back on time so as not muck up their schedules. Hence our few hours in la Coruna represent the furthest extent of our voyage.

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