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Archive for October, 2010

Well folks, this is the boring part.  We got up early, went up to the Lido Buffet for a good breakfast, left our cabin and went to the Queen’s Room, where we had to wait until we could disembark.

After about an hour, our group was called and we left the Queen Elizabeth and made our way to the luggage terminal to retrieve our cases.  We boarded the coach and off we went; we had a good seven hour journey ahead of us.

At lunchtime the coach stopped at a motorway services place for an hour or so, and we went in and had something to eat.  Trevor had put a bottle of the Cava we had bought in Tenerife in his rucksack, so we cracked it open and sneaked it back on the bus, where we dispensed it into four paper cups we had acquired from the ship’s gym.  We shared it with Bob and Val, who were sitting opposite us, so it made the long journey back more like a last little bit of our holiday.  🙂

Then that was it – we arrived at Washington Services about 5.30pm, and got a taxi back home.  We had work to look forward to the next day.  😦

And so ended another great cruise.  🙂

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Today was the last day of the Maiden Voyage of the Queen Elizabeth.  Tomorrow morning we were due to dock back in Southampton before the long coach ride back to the North-East.  😦

Although it was sunny, the weather was decidedly colder and windier as we got closer to the cold British shores.  We didn’t go out on the balcony today, but spent some time doing the boring things such as packing anything we wouldn’t need on the cruise any more and sorting out which clothes we would be travelling home it.

We went along to the pub for our last Golden Lion lunch and spent a pleasant hour in there listening to the pianist and enjoying a cold beer.  Then we wandered along to the shopping arcade to see if there was any more last minute Christmas presents we could buy for people.  We were already going back with loaded carrier bags of stuff as it was!  At least the recipients won’t already have the gifts we’ve bought for them, ha ha 🙂

Around tea time it was the moment we’d all been waiting for; the time to go along and redeem our ‘wonderful’ prize vouchers.  We had six vouchers in total, so we wondered what we would be able to get.  What a let-down!!  all the prizes were, in essence, advertising Cunard in some way:  one voucher got you a Cunard bookmark; two got you a Cunard pack of playing cards, three you got a Cunard key-ring and five got you a Cunard base-ball cap.   Whoopee!  So with six vouchers we could pick a combination of these.  There were various other Cunard logoed stuff as well; for 15 vouchers you could get an imitation leather photo album.  The items really were not much more than holiday tat and there was nothing we wanted.  So as we were going out of the room where the prizes were being dished out, we saw some guys coming in to redeem their vouchers so we just gave them ours to add to theirs!

You’d think, with all the money Cunard must make each year, they could at least give away decent prizes for their competitions.  On P&O and Fred Olsen they give you bottles of wine if you win the quiz, and I got a nice Holland America flight bag and windcheater on the Volendam just for coming second in an X-Factor type contest.  Cunard prizes are, quite frankly, pretty crap.

We enjoyed our last dinner in the Britannia Restaurant; one of the people on our table had brought up the remainder of a bottle of Remy Martin cognac for us to finish off – that was very kind of her.  We said our farewells, went to the final show in the theatre (which was a variety show featuring the ship’s orchestra, singers and dancers) then back to our cabin to finish packing, as our suitcases had to be placed outside the cabin door before midnight.

Then along to the Golden Lion for our last evening on board.  There were not many people in, as most of them would have been packing and perhaps having an early night if they had a long journey back home.

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We woke up feeling a little sad this morning, as the holiday we had waited for for so long is fast coming to an end.

So it was another nice relaxing sea day, and this time we were in the Bay of Biscay.  Usually this is a notoriously rough stretch of water, but this time, like the time going out, it was disappointingly calm!  🙂  Trevor and I are never sea-sick, and there is something quite exhilarating about being on a ship when the sea is rough, being buffeted about and tasting the salt spray on your lips.

We sat out on our balcony and drank the bottle of Pol Acker sparkling wine we had won in the “Mr & Mrs” competition.  Then we had a walk around the ship, and I took lots of photos for my gallery.  I was amused to see other people going round taking their last lot of photos as well.

In the evening it was the final formal night, and there was lobster thermidor for dinner.  This is absolutely delicious; I simply adore lobster.  Most cruises serve it at least once during the voyage.

Then off to the show in the Royal Court Theatre; this time it was a comedian/impressionist/musician/singer – a good all-round entertainer in other words, called Allan Stewart.  He was side-splittingly funny.  He did decent impressions of well-known people but he really brought the house down with his impression of Captain Chris Wells – it was spot-on. 🙂

Afterwards we went off to – you’ve guessed it – the Golden Lion, where once again it was karaoke night.  I did Dido’s White Flag again, then Madonna’s Material Girl.  It was fun.  All the usual suspects were there; Bob and Val, Thomas, Rex and a few other familiar faces.

Then it was off to bed after another late night.

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Today dawned bright and sunny again; hopefully we’ll see no more rain until we’re back in Blighty. 🙂

In the shopping arcade on the ship there was a shop selling merchandise with the Cunard and Queen Elizabeth logos on them.  A lot of the QE stuff had “Maiden Season 2010-11” etched onto it.  Today though, they were selling some very-limited-edition “Maiden Voyage” merchandise, and it was announced that the shop would open at 9.00am and each passenger was limited to buying two items each; this was to prevent people buying truck-loads of the stuff (it has been known!) to sell on E-Bay at a profit.

We went down to the shops at 09:10am and joined the extremely long queue.  Ten minutes later someone came out of the shop and said that ALL the Maiden Voyage stuff had sold out; every last bit of it.  It will be interesting to see how much of it ends up on E-Bay. 🙂  What is the point of buying a souvenir of the Maiden Voyage on E-Bay if you haven’t even been on the ship?  Surely the point of special-edition souvenirs is to give a memento to the people who were actually there.

At 10.00am we went along to the Royal Court Theatre to listen to a presentation about Clint Eastwood, by the film historian Barry Brown.  The 45-minute talk included clips from Eastwood’s illustrious film career and was very interesting.  I’m not really a fan of Westerns but I did enjoy the “Man with No Name” trilogy; they are just classics.

Later on we were having a stroll around the promenade deck when the First Officer did the noon announcement with the navigational information.  He also mentioned the appalling weather we had had in Madeira, and confirmed the story of the little dog that had got washed into the sea with the flood waters.  Sure enough, a member of QE’s crew had gone out in the pilot boat and rescued the dog, which was a bitch.  The dog had no collar or tags and appeared to be a stray, so the crew member adopted her as a pet for his children.  There was only one name he could give to her – Queen Elizabeth.  What a lovely little story!  🙂

As we were wandering around the ship, we saw a guy going round taking photos of absolutely everything; even the patterns on the carpets!  I thought he looked vaguely familiar, and he looked at me and did a double-take as well.  It was another blast from the past, this time none other than Alan Lang from Melbourne; he and his wife Marion had shared our table on the Queen Victoria, three years ago!  It really is a small world.  🙂  We went back along to Alan’s cabin as he wanted me to write down our email address so he could send some photos from the QV, and we had a nice long chat with him and Marion.  Lucky people are doing the next two cruises on the QE as well.  It’s all right for some!

We got ready fairly early on as we were due to attend the Cunard World Club party at 5.15pm, just before dinner.  We are currently Gold members; in fact this voyage qualifies us for Platinum grade.  As ever, we went along to the Queen’s Room and positioned ourselves in the best place to make the most of the free champers! 🙂  We did quite well; I think we managed five glasses each.

I didn’t want to go and eat a massive dinner, so once again I just went to the restaurant for the coffee and liqueur course.  The show tonight was the ship’s singers and dancers doing a production called “Sing”.  I must say that the ship’s orchestra is very good, and we enjoyed the show a lot.

Then it was off to the Golden Lion to do some singing of our own, as Simon John on the piano was doing a good old pub singalong.  There wasn’t all that many people in the Golden Lion, so the singing was a bit flat, but never mind, we had fun anyway. 🙂

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Today we woke up in Funchal, Madeira.  We had been here twice before; the last visit was a couple of years ago.  Madeira is a beautiful island, and is sometimes known as the garden of the Atlantic, as its flora is so green and lush.  But today we opened our curtains to grey skies and mist.  We certainly hoped it would improve; we could stay at home if we wanted dull, rainy weather.  🙂

We were due to go on a scenic coach tour and visit to a Madeira lodge this morning.  In the past we had just done our own thing, as the ship docks right in Funchal centre and everything is within walking distance.  So we’d already done the cable car and the wicker toboggan run; this time we were going on an organised excursion.

We left the ship about 9.30am and there was a light shower, certainly nothing much.  We boarded the bus and off we went to the Blandy’s Madeira lodge, to try the different Madeira wines.  They were very palatable; there was a nice medium one we started with, which tasted similar to sherry.  Then there was also a dry one and a sweet one; I wasn’t too keen on the sweet.   The wine lodge was fairly crowded with tourists, which meant you had to queue up at the bar each time to get your sample; you could also purchase bottles of Madeira at the bar.  When I say “queue up” however, I mean that’s what the British visitors did.  The Japanese absolutely did not seem to have any idea of the concept of queueing!  There was one lady in a stupid baseball hat with a massive peak, who was just determined to squeeze in, even though it was apparent that people were waiting to be served.  When I pointed this out to her, she glared at me then moved to push into another part of the queue, until she was sent packing by the person there!  Is queuing just a British phenomenon?

We bought some Madeira to take back home, and also some Madeira cake.  When we came out of the lodge it was absolutely teeming with rain!  I mean, the skies just opened and it was torrential.  The bus was parked a good five minutes walk away, but that is all it took for me to become soaked through.  If I’d jumped in the ship’s swimming pool with all my clothes on, I could not have been wetter. 😦

It was a very uncomfortable journey on the bus, particularly as they had the air conditioning on full blast and you couldn’t turn off the blowers.  So there I was, soaked to the skin, getting cold air blown onto me.  Furthermore, the windows inside the bus steamed up inside and had water pouring down them outside, so you couldn’t see anything!

The rest of the tour just consisted of the bus going up the winding streets, all the way to the top.  Normally this would have given us spectacular views and fantastic photo points, but there was just nothing to see except clouds and water.  At each of the stopping points no-one got off the coach to take any photos, and I just got the impression everyone just wanted to go back to the ship – I certainly did!  On the way back down we could see torrents of water pouring down the hillside, and manhole covers were lifting up with the force of the flood waters beneath them.

Eventually we did go back on board, by which time my teeth were chattering.  As we dripped our way up the gangplank we heard an announcement over the tannoy to say that due to “inclement weather” (understatement or what?!) all further excurions would be cancelled, and even the shuttle bus into town would be cancelled.  I don’t really blame them.

I had a good, long hot shower and changed into some clean, dry clothes – sheer bliss to get out of my damp things.  No sitting out on the balcony for us today then!

For the rest of the afternoon we just pottered around the ship as the rain continued to bucket down outside.  At least there is always plenty to do on the ship, so we weren’t bored at all.  We got ready to go down to dinner at 6.00pm as usual.  Someone on our table said that a dog had been washed into the sea in the floods and had had to be rescued by one our the Queen Elizabeth‘s crew in the pilot boat!  They couldn’t tell us any more though.

Once we had finished dinner we wasted no time in going to the Royal Court Theatre, and managed to get seats in the centre, in the second row.  Tonight we were in for a treat – Lulu was performing, along with her guest Kiki Dee.

The set on the stage was brilliant; you’d have thought you were in some theatre somewhere, never mind on a ship!  Lulu had brought her own band and backing singers with her, and the show was excellent!  She is certainly looking very good for 61 years old.  She sang her own well-known numbers, such as To Sir, With Love and Shout.  She also did some superb covers of other hit songs.  Then Kiki Dee came on and did her famous ones, such as I’ve Got the Music in Me, and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, with Lulu taking Elton John’s part.  I was pleased to hear her fluff her lines in one part, which is exactly what I’d done in the Golden Lion when I was singing this song with the pianist (I’d had a few drinks, mind you!)  😉

As usual, once the show was finished (to a standing ovation) we hot-footed it along to the Golden Lion.  We could not believe our ears when he overheard some of the old farts moaning about Lulu, saying the music was too loud, the lights were too bright etc.  There’s no pleasing some people!

In the Golden Lion later on, they were looking for four couples to take part in “The Marriage Game” (otherwise known as “Mr & Mrs”) so Trevor and I volunteered.   This is the game where they ask the four women questions about their husbands (while the men are out of the room), then bring the husband back in, ask them the same questions and they have to guess what answer their wives gave.  Then the second round is where they ask the men questions about their wives.  Trevor and I won!  We received a bottle of bubbly as well as some of the ‘wonderful’ prize vouchers.  We felt it was extremely fitting that we won, because three years ago on the Queen Victoria we participated in Mr & Mrs and we actually should have won then, but they made a mistake adding up our score and so we were robbed!

Madeira was our last port of call and we now had three days at sea to look forward to, before our arrival back at Southampton.

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The Queen Elizabeth arrived in La Palma at 8.0oam.  This is the only port of call that we hadn’t been to previously, so we were looking forward to exploring this island.  La Palma is the fifth largest of the seven Canary Islands.  We had booked an excursion this afternoon to see some volcanoes and also (more!) wine sampling.  🙂

La Palma is known as la isla bonita, which means pretty island.  It was the subject of a song by Madonna in 1987:

Tropical the island breeze
All of nature wild and free
This is where I long to be
La isla bonita.

La Palma is very rugged as it was formed from volcanic eruptions in the Atlantic ocean millions of years ago.  We spent the morning walking around and looking in the little narrow streets and boutique shops; I bought myself a pretty scarf/wrap which was velvet with a hand-painted pattern on it in plums and purples.  It will go nicely with some of my evening wear.  We then had a cup of coffee at a pavement café and wandered back to the ship.

After lunch, we boarded our excursion coach and went off on our trip; the first stop was to (yet another!) bodega.  We sampled red, white and rosé wine, but they didn’t give us very generous measures; just a couple of mouthfuls really.  So it meant lots of trips back to the table for more samples 🙂  We then went off to see, and learn about, the volcanoes.

The coach wended its way up the zigzagging, narrow mountain roads, higher and higher, which afforded us impressive views of the island and the Atlantic ocean beyond.  It was a lovely clear day so we could see for miles.  The bus parked at the visitor centre and we went inside, where we watched a docu-film explaining how volcanoes are formed and what happens when they erupt.  We were then able to walk along the path to view the now-dormant crater of Teneguía, the best-known volcano in La Palma.

Teneguía is the source of the last volcanic eruption on Spanish soil – from October 26 to November 28, 1971.  Several earthquakes preceded the eruption.  An elderly fisherman was killed, who had come too close to the lava and asphyxiated.   The eruption also caused some property damage and destroyed a beach, though a new one was later formed by natural means. Luckily, most populated areas were unaffected.  The crater, and the mountain paths that lead to it, are popular with hikers, and indeed we saw quite a few as we walked along to the crater for the great views.

We got back to the ship around 4.00pm, sat out on the balcony for a while and then got ready and went down for dinner. As ever, it was far too easy to eat and drink too much, and I finished the meal absolutely fit to burst.  In fact, I could have done with being trocarised to relieve some of the bloat.  Really uncomfortable, but self-inflicted. 😦

So I decided I wasn’t going to eat or drink anything more tonight.  No going to the show, no going to the Golden Lion.  I just went back to our stateroom and read my really good book and watched some TV.  Actually, it was quite nice to have an early night, as most nights we had stayed up well after midnight, and sometimes even 1.00am.

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This morning we woke up in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the largest of the seven main Canary Islands.  We had been here last two years ago, on the Black Prince.  Interestingly, whilst most British people pronounce it ‘ten-er-reef’ its actual pronunciation is four syllables long, i.e. ‘ten-er-reef-ay’.

We spent the morning just doing our own thing, before setting off after lunch on the “Tenerife Wine and Tapas Experience”.  It certainly sounded interesting! 🙂  The coach drove along the coastal road en route to the first winery then along some of the winding mountain roads.  We could see Mount Teide, an extinct volcano and Tenerife’s highest mountain, rearing up into the clouds in the background.

We arrived at the winery (its name escapes me so it must have been good ;-)) and watched a brief docu-film showing how the grapes are grown and harvested and how the wine is made, often by the traditional method whereby the grapes and are actually trodden by foot instead of by machine.  Then we were shown around the bodega to observe each stage of the winemaking process.  We then walked into a sunny and pleasant courtyard where we were able to sample the different wines, and try some delicious home-made bread and goat’s cheese.  There was red, white and rosé wine to try and we went back to have our glass refilled more than once 😉

A friendly black and white cat was sunning itself in the courtyard and was getting plenty of attention from our party.  It was a female and looked pretty fat; we were sure it must be pregnant.  But when the cheese and bread was brought out, the cat went and sat under the table and certainly made the most of the titbits of cheese it was offered.  The lady serving out the wine said the cat wasn’t pregnant, just fat!  😀  No wonder if the tourists feed it every day.

We left the pleasant courtyard and boarded the coach to go our next bodega.  This one was more how I remember Spanish bodegas to be; a cool, dim, slightly musty-smelling cellar stacked with barrels.  As we walked into the bodega there were wooden tables and chairs down the middle of the room, and we were shown where the wine glasses were and told “help yourselves!” 🙂

There were six different types of wine to try; a fruity red, a medium rosé, a white, a moscatel and a brut cava and a demi-sec cava.  As always, the cava (which I love) was my favourite and I wasn’t keen on the moscatel, which was a very sweet dessert wine.  At 15% it was almost like a sherry, and Trevor liked it, drinking several (large!) glasses.

In addition to the copious quantities of wine, there were also lots of different types of traditional tapas to try, including delicious jamon serrano and salami.  The taste of the cured meats really brought out the flavours of the wine.

All too soon it was time to go back on the bus; we bought one bottle of each of the Cavas to take back with us to drink on the ship.  In fact, while we drank our own wine in the privacy of our stateroom, a lot of people brought theirs into the dining room to consume with their evening meal, preferring to pay corkage as it was still cheaper than paying the ship’s inflated wine list prices.  Everyone was fairly quiet on the bus journey back – I think most people had fallen asleep after all that wine! 🙂

I must admit when we got back on board that I didn’t feel like going up to dinner after all that drinking and eating tapas, so I took my time getting ready and only went into the dining room at the coffee stage.

The entertainment in the Royal Court Theatre that night was an Irish comedian called Adrian Walsh, from Belfast.  We had seen him earlier this year on the QM2 and he is really funny.  He seemed to appeal to audiences from both sides of the Atlantic and I really enjoyed his show.

Then it was off to the Golden Lion again for the usual, before going to bed around 1.00am.

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