Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Home again

Home again, what a relief. Great to see that people liked the the blog.

The floors here are still gently moving under my feet? How long does that last?

Disembarkation was managed very smoothly this morning. We had to leave most of our luggage outside our cabins last night and that was all ashore waiting for us in deck order.

Talking of luggage - we took too much stuff. I had been tempted into thinking the dressing-up might be fun, bought a pretty frock etc. But first of all the weather forced them to abandon the initial party schedule, and then I was so disillusioned by it all I just didn't want to go to any of the dress-up dos. I could see that people did look very elegant wafting along in evening dress, but my guess is that when they are dressed like that they spend more money in the bars... champagne instead of a half of lager, and a box of chocolates for the lady. So it's not really about having a party. What we should have had with us was comfortable and very casual stuff, trainers, sweatshirts, etc. Though we did not have as much luggage as some of the others.... Usually at the parties you get the chance to meet the captain but a) I met him by chance one day in the lunch queue, b) we'd had some meetings with him discussing the isobars and c) I'd have probably had an argument rather than just chit chat.

Breakfast service this morning was an eye-opener. Gone were all the cheery smiles and hallos from the waiters. Instead there was a distinct froideur, surly behaviour, backs turned and a bad atmosphere in the corners. One or two people remarked on this. The truth revealed, I guess. These waiters have been watching people stuff their faces morning night and noon for ten days, and now they have to get ready for the next lot, who are bound for the Cape Verdhe Islands.

We had all been told what to tip, typically £2 a day per passenger for cabin services and £2 a day for restaurant staff, so for us that was an extra £80 to pay in cash. I think the staff are paid a very low wage so the tips are how they actually earn their money. The ship supplies envelopes and you leave them in your cabin or in the restaurant.

Waiting to leave, in a section where people could get wheelchairs to be taken ashore, I spoke to a lady who had fallen in her bathroom due to the surges. The ship's doc had sent her for an X-ray to the hospital at la Coruna (lucky not a fractured vertebra but bleeding and severe bruising - she had fallen backwards across the raised metal barrier in front of her shower). She and her h spent the day in the hospital. However the ship's Tours desk would not refund them the £84 they had pre-paid for that day's bus tour. They said the doctor would have to write to confirm she was unable to go. Since she was by then on strong painkillers and other medication, and was only really comfortable lying down in her cabin, it was quite an ordeal to stand and try to argue.

Andrew has just sent me this link to a story in the Daily Mirror...take a look:

Antwerp provided us with the best part of the holiday - a lovely place, rich in the middle ages and then enriched by the enormous wealth of the Congo from the 19th Century onwards. Fantastic architecture and excellent shopping. Delicious meals too, and cakes, waffles, chocolates, pancakes, cream, coffee, chocolate etc etc. Definitely worth a visit. It was only when we were walking back to the ship yesterday afternoon that I felt 'relaxed' for the first time during these ten days. In fact I feel exhausted.

Setting aside the company's decision to sail into that storm, I think the worst thing about all this was what counts as 'normal' or successful on a cruise: the artificiality of it all, the fake friendship from staff - or at least the impossibility of getting to any kind of real honest communication from them. I can see that drifting along in the sun on a flat, comfortable vessel would be good. But I'd still want the main pleasure to come from the 'ashore' part: the real world. On this cruise, our main experience was of the ship, with journeys ashore being only very rapidly planned, and not what we had paid for. Four ports instead of five. So the balance was all wrong. (Literally). I had the distinct feeling that all the decisions made were for the company's balance sheet: the customer spend, not safety and not enjoyment.

They must have known about this atrocious weather before we left Dover. If not, why not?

And if so, why on earth did they set off with so many frail and elderly people, many using sticks or pushers, when the boat is so badly designed for rough weather? No handholds in all those acres of space. They chose to keep everyone aboard, not even offering a chance to think about it. I think they knew we'd never make Tangiers (and get back in time for 27th departure for next trip), and the decision to abandon Lisbon was also made very very early. We had waves up to 52' at one point. That is not funny.

Well, actually it is funny watching people staggering about, but it's not funny when they fall and hurt themselves. I found it to be increasingly distressing to see more and more people hurt, and meanwhile the tannoy announcements were of the 'Aren't we all enjoying ourselves?' kind.

So we are glad to be home. I'm sorry if the posts have been a bit disjointed.

The internet cafes offered another whole story. Sheila said the one in Antwerp featured a fat old othordox Jew who was watching pornography on the screen next to me (I hadn't noticed) but he gave up when surrounded by our little party. They all charge a very low rate, btw, such as 20p for an hour or something like that. The only problem is that they are in such out of the way places. I didn't see a single person using the onboard internet room where it racked up about £1 every 2 or 3 minutes, and there was no facility for using a flashstick or even Word to pre-write a post.

I might be able to send some sort of finishing bulletin but we are really at the end.

Thanks for reading.


Griselda and Andrew

PS Great pix in today's Daily Mirror, page 22. Worth going to get a copy.

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