This is the city of a thousand opticians. Excellent lunch by the harbour. French keyboards are different layout. Here is last nights bulletin, and btw, thanks to all who have texted.
The moment we were away from Bilbao yesterday afternoon the Capt made another of his doomladen announcements. We'd be abandoning the la Rochelle-l'Orient-Cherbourg itinerary due to absolutely appalling weather bearing down on the Atlantic coast. In fact, we'd be whipping out of the Bay of Biscay as fast as possible.
What's more, to compensate us for this further curtailnment, we'd be heading up to Antwerp instead. This is so far away from the advertised and longed-for 'Sun and Soukhs' tour as to be laughable.
He gave us a talk this morning showing the wind speeds predicted for the whole area, including a centrum of bad weather reaching windspeeds off the known scale – higher than Hurricane Force 12 I assume and this great blister of peril and pain would be moving along the north Spanish coast from la Coruna to Bilbao, with its skirts reaching up through the whole of the Bay, making entry into la Rochelle impossible. He said the waves were predicted for 15 metres (up to 60'). We've been cracking jokes about the ship falling to bits even in the waters we've been through, but maybe even the company would have fears for its safety in seas like that.
Looking at his charts no doubt he and the company made the right decision but there are mutinous reactions from some of the passengers. The captain was besieged by angry people after his talks. A retired seacaptain said he has already written to the company asking for compensaion. He thought the captain knew about this weather before we left Dover. He also said lots of people left the ship at the first port of call, and lots more have been voluntarily confined to their cabins out of fear, injury or queasiness. A day in the sickbay costs #450 though you have to have insurance which would cover this.
While Andrew was making some turns around the deck this afternoon (4 circuits = 1 mile) I sat in the pale sunshine looking at the sea. Within 5 seconds this seacaptain passenger had come to sit beside me (so I can still pull). He has written to the company already demanding compensation. He also within the space of 5 minutes let me know he had been married 47 years then divorced, has a good pension from the Port of London Authority, that this pension will be augmented when the new container facility on Canvey Island comes into operation in 2012, that he has two properties in Poole, two grown up sons, and that he's a keen and competitive karaoke singer. This sounded like a serious mating call to me, very amusing. He was off to the Silver and Gold (frequent cruisers) Cocktail Party and asked if I would come to hear him singing at the karaoke later tonight. (Unlikely).
I am at the moment up on the topmost level (11) having had afternoon tea. It's nice and light up here, though everything is grey again now, after our little sunshine a few hours ago.
The jazz expert gave us his final talk this afternoon – all about Jazz and the Blues. The wine expert did a talk about New World wines. Earlier today Andrew went to the daily quiz in another of the lounges. One question was: which English king first started a zoo? The answer when read out by the Philippina hostess was “Edward VIII” which provoked a widespread protest. (I think it was James I).
Two sweet old ladies have been very interested in this mini-laptop and have now gone down to change. All around me the staff are cleaning and tidying, sweeping and scouring. They all pay huge attention to hygiene, and each time we go into a cafe or restaurant or bar on the ship, or come back on board after a shore trip, we get anti-bacterial foam sprayed onto our hands. Another passenger, a lady chef, is obsessed with the danger of infections at the self-service food counters, and wraps the handles of all the serving spoons in a napkin to avoid touching them whenever she wants to serve herself a portion of anything. She says people may get their hands clean as they come into the restaurant but they can then cough, sneeze, pick their nose or otherwise cover themselves with germs and then share these spoons. Yeuk.
At lunch (it tastes almost as if it's all gone through the wash) we were talking about why this sort of cruise is so unsatisfactory. I think it's partly a kind of class war, but mostly the stultifying effects of being subject all the time to other people's decisions. In theory it should be a great thing – a luxurious floating hotel taking you to interesting places. But in practice there are in-built rules and regs about what to wear, what you can do, how you can do it, what will happen next. Perhaps it's not fair to judge all cruises by this one as things have gone so badly wrong. We've been very cooped up because of the wind and cold, not even able to access fresh air very much for a lot of the time, and it's been very very rocky.
Ah, welll now I've been moved by a floor-mopping girl to another saloon but will not stay here as it's a bit smokey. In fact most of the ship smells ok, with the exception of the smokey bar and a dreadful whiff, a faint but rising stench in parts of the cabin corridors and some of the lower stair levels. This has got worse with the bad weather and I can only imagine it's the sewage tanks slopping about. That really is yeuk, no?
I also think they may have a system of blowing the smell of breakfast through the cabin air-conditioning, to wake people up in the mornings. Not sure.
In general, things look very clean though. The ship's laundrette is also pretty good: four Miele machines with automatic soap dispensers. A token from reception costs two quid, and that includes soap and free use of the dryers.
I'd really like to hear back from you – we have dashed into internet cafes to get this stuff online and I hoped to have reactions back so I can see what you want me to write about. I don't know if what I have written is ok – let me know!
Off to Antwerp now.