Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Internet connection

Connecting on board is difficult and costs a bomb. I am using a tiny ill-lit internet cafe in la Coruna to send this. This is a lovely city on the sea, hills, ancient churches, spectacular views, lots of sports grounds, and the bad weather featuring head of the TV news. We are having a special meeting with the captain of the ship this evening to discuss the conditions. I think likely our itinerary is being radically curtailed.
I have a report I wrote on my laptop on our first day at sea, will try to load it for you, but not sure I can do it here. It will describe our embarkation. What a laugh.
The four of us have just had lunch in a cafe here, run by two lovely sisters, one lived and worked in Surrey for 21 years, so English language no problem. Delicious rather salty lunch. We´d like to come back.
Sir John Moore is buried here - his monument very stately and elegant in a walled garden overlooking the main harbour. He is regarded as a hero as he was fighting against the French when he was hit by a cannonball, trying to embark the remnants of the English army. I am not describing this very well, rather hasty I fear. Anyway, when his men got back to England they found he was not regarded as a hero as his troops had been in retreat. But the Spanish thought he was OK so they have set up a very nice memorial to him.
We are going to have to leave here early to avoid the next wave of this huge storm. The weather here is very cold and icy, hail, strong winds, etc.
On board, it´s all a bit like being in the glamour part of an airport...lots of plastic, and glitter. There is full programne of entertainment, ranging from the dire to the faintly amusing. It was lovely to come ashore and be in a real place...stone, fresh air, real people, dogs, children, beggars, ham shops, steps, old ladies, etc etc.
We will come back here, I think, as it is very nice. The city is proud of its Galician culture - its an extension of Wales or Ireland, very Celtic. Also, therefore, wet.
I will now try to load up my earlier bulletin...if I can do it you will be reading what we did a few days ago.
I'll be writing this on the Asus and transferring it online when I get a chance. The ship is very nice, the other passengers are very nice, the food is copious and very nice. The internet room is ferociously expensive.

At Dover we found we were in a long long queue which tailed out to the road. After waiting some while we did a recce and then decided to walk to Terminal 2. The whole thing was totally shambolic. Just one long line for everyone whether they were seeking a parking place for the duration of the cruise or dropping passengers off. The marshalls hobbited up in their thick yellow jackets had to shout to each other through the wind to communicate. The old grungy architecture added to the doom-laden hopeless atmosphere. We, pulling our suitcases along – up, down the kerbs, past railings, through gaps – were overtaking the cars, and probably jumping the queue by at least an hour. We found our cabin numbers, labelled our cases, handed them over and grateful for the warmth in the building, went up the escalator to check in. As 'new-to-cruisers' we were given red cards and allowed aboard head of the queue. We had our pix taken for security and went to the cabins where all but one of our cases waiting for us. Amazing. The one missing case was eventually tracked down inside one of the huge mountains of luggage to be found at every major landing or lift-lobby, There were dozens of Indonesian and Philippino crewguys scrambling over these monstrous piles, dragging cases away to cabins, for three or four hours after we sailed, so we were very fortunate to be able to unpack so swiftly on arrival.

Cabins fine, like a Travelodge room only smaller. Again we are fortunate to be on Deck 4, quite low down, and midships, as the weather and the forecast is pretty rough.

We are out on deck up at the top of the ship as night falls. Sheila suddenly says 'Unmoor!' and as if at her command the stevedores take Balmoral's for'ard mooring rope from the stanchion and drop it into the sea. The two tugs Doughty and Dauntless swing us round into the darkness. Unfortunately, the emergency drill drags us away from the fascination of leaving the dock and we have to go below and practice putting on our emergency kit and learn our lifeboat drill. A crazy game like bingo carries on with cabin numbers being called out, the replies being the number of people per cabin. We also learned how to jump off the ship and into the water – in theory at least.

The sea seemed calm enough with all the computer controls and stablilisers, and I made a couple of phone calls to friends before we headed out into the channel. Amanda – a sailing friend – sounded suitably impressed by the forecasts. She and Julian have a full weather station in their kitchen so she could see the vast storm which is waiting for us out west.

The crew are all oriental, the bridge being staffed by Norwegians. The passengers seem to be all English, and I have seen only two babies on board. It's like going back to the 1950s – everyone is so nice. No rudeness, no vandalism, nothing nasty. I can see why it's so popular. The interior design of the public spaces is very good – part Deco, part sparkly, and all very clean and soothing. For me the excitement comes from the weather... the captain has just announced (Sunday midday) that we have Gale Force 8 winds, 8 metre waves, the sea is 10 degrees, we have squalls, our speed is limited to 12 knots to avoid damage to the hull and to avoid slamming into these huge rollers. We are presently about 45 nautical miles south of Plymouth having made such slow time from Dover over night. We will not get to Tangiers at this rate and will be a day late reaching our first port – la Coruna.
Our meal in the main dining room was very luxuriously served but we four, being foodies and in what Kentucky Debbie calls the boomer generation, are picky and c ritical. We had between us salmon, soup, and salad as our starters, and piri piri prawns, falafels, steak and calves' liver for mains. All a bit canteeny. Asking for a piece of fresh fruit for dessert threw them – they could only muster a bowl of chopped banana, apple, orange and grapes. Fair enough.

(Note to self: What do you expect for forty-five quid a day?)

Today we tried the Watercolour class and watched a Welshman create a beach scene while answering lots of questions from a keen amateur audience at the same time. 'I was doing a lovely scene at Southend, the sky was black, then orange, then black again and there was a red flame from the oil depot. How should I have done it? '

The Introduction to Yoga class up on Deck 10 turned out not to be a class but a sales pitch. About ten middle aged people turned up, wearing baggy trousers and trainers – all ready for a good stretch. But a charming slender young Indian doctor and physiotherapist asked us all to sit on the floor while he explained what would be covered over the five days. It would cost #100, and include a free consultation. It's hard enough to stand on one leg on the ground, but up there at the top of a tall ship in a gale, it's all very rocky. While we listened to him a very fit young woman started doing exercises with a strap, stretching her leg out while lying on a mat. The gleaming row of exercise bikes and rowing machines was empty. The waves were crashing over the bow below us, and spray and rain drenching the gym windows. A disappointed group of us slunk away to think about whether we'd go for it. It starts at 8am tomorrow – important we do our yoga on an empty stomach, or we will belch, that is what we were told.

No comments: