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Archive for the ‘Cruises / Holidays’ Category

Beautiful Bruges

Woke up this morning to find that the Arcadia was docked in Zeebrugge, Belgium.  Trevor and I worked out that it was nearly 10 years (December 2007) since we’d last visited this port, which is the gateway to the medieval city of Bruges.  On that day, it was bitterly cold with an icy wind blowing, but today it was crisp and bright and, thankfully, dry.

We ate our breakfasts sitting by the window in the Belvedere self-service restaurant.  Zeebrugge is one of the busiest ports in Europe, and we could see cargo ships and ferries, as well as a Navy frigate and some smaller boats busily going to and fro.  Zeebrugge actually means “Bruges by the sea” when roughly translated, and we’d decided today to make our own way into this picturesque city by train, rather than pay over the odds for a guided excursion.  We’d checked online beforehand and discovered that you could get a shuttle bus to the nearby town of Blankenberg, and from there a return train to Bruges only cost six Euros.

After a substantial breakfast, we wrapped up warmly (I wore my new cagoule), collected our money, cruise cards, camera etc from our cabin, then went down to Deck 2 to disembark the Arcadia.  We only had a short distance to walk before boarding one of the half-dozen or so waiting shuttle buses, and it only took about 10 minutes for them to drop us outside Blankenberg railway station.  A lot of people from the ship seemed to have the same idea as us; after all, there is a lot to see and do in Bruges and, to be honest, the exercise of walking around would certainly do no harm.

We had about 40 minutes to wait for the train, and the platform was fairly crowded with other passengers.  The train came in about 10 minutes before it was due to depart; it was a double-decker and we made our way upstairs for a better vantage point.  The train left bang on time, and we only had a short ride of about 15 minutes or so before arriving at Bruges.

Bruges is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium, in the northwest of the country. The area of the whole city amounts to more than 13,840 hectares, including 1,075 hectares off the coast, at Zeebrugge. The historic city centre is a prominent UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is famous for its production of chocolate, cheese, beer and, of course, Belgian lace.  Every other shop along its cobbled streets seemed to be selling these items.

We were a little early for the Christmas markets, but we could see the huts, stalls and festive lights and decorations, where they were getting ready to set them up.  There was not a lot of traffic (it’s probably restricted in the city centre) but we could hear the constant clip-clop of the many horse’s hooves as they pulled their carriages through the streets.  The horses all wore a sort of ‘sling’ underneath their tails, which consisted of a chute down into a receptacle at the bottom of the carriage; this caught all the horse muck and prevented it covering the streets.  I certainly didn’t envy the person who had to wash these containers out!  🙂

We were all wearing comfortable walking shoes as we strolled through the pretty narrow, cobbled streets on our way to the main square, window shopping as we did so.  The sun was out and it was quite warm on our backs, but when it went behind the clouds we noticed a brisk wind.  Around 11.00am we decided to find a beer-tasting place and we went into a lively bar/café along a “beer wall” – this was glass cases floor to ceiling with many different bottles of beer.  Outside there were high tables and stools, thoughtfully warmed up with patio heaters here and there.

We went inside and ordered a taster each of four strong beers which were between 8.5% and even 11% – almost wine strength!  Iris decided to have a hot chocolate instead.  With our 4 x 250ml glasses of beer was some small nibbles designed to compliment the flavour of the beers; there were some salami pieces, salted nuts and pretzels.  Iris got a couple of samples of gorgeous Belgian chocolate with her hot drink.  It was most enjoyable, but I’d imagine you would certainly know if you drank a pint of any of those beers!

Afterwards we wandered around the main square for a short while, looking in the shops and at the lovely architecture.  There were many leafy waterways on which small pleasure boats were gliding along with their sight-seeing passengers.  The savoury aromas from some nearby food-stalls caught our attention and Trevor and Iris decided to have some hot chips for lunch; I decided I’d skip them and have a good dinner later on instead.

Around one o’clock we decided we’d better make the 14:05 train back to the Arcadia; there were a lot of passengers (2,000) and we didn’t want to risk not getting on the shuttle bus or the train for the return journey, as we all had to be back on board by five o’clock at the latest.

We therefore went into another pub that had lots of character, and Trevor and I had a pint of beer each, before we used the loos and started to take a slow stroll back to the train station, after a very interesting morning.  As we’d predicted, we saw a lot of people at the station who had got the same train to Bruges as we had.

Back in Blankenberg we were pleased to see that there were half a dozen shuttle buses waiting, so it didn’t take too long.  Our pleasure was short-lived however; on arriving back at the Arcadia we were met with enormous queues as everyone had decided to return at once.  There were two gangways open, but we still had to queue for a full half-hour, in the cold wind, before we were able to board.  That is one of the problems with the bigger ships I suppose, although Arcadia is classed as ‘mid-sized’ by today’s standards.  It’s certainly another reason why I would never go on any of the mammoth ships that hold 4,000+ passengers.

Eventually we were all back on board after 4.00pm.  We returned to cabin A103 and I had a nice hot shower and washed and blow-dried my hair.  Then Trevor and I decided to go up to the Aquarius pool and bar where they were holding a Sailaway Party; we also had vouchers for a free glass of champagne each because we are members of the Peninsular Club, which is P&O’s loyalty programme.  Iris said she’d wait for us to come back.

Up on deck everyone was in a party mood; we were all given Union flags to wave and there were jugs of Pimms as well as the champagne on offer.  Dance music blared out of the speakers as everyone waved their flags and joined in with the singing and dancing.  At 5.30pm Arcadia slipped her moorings and we slowly started to make our way back out to sea, for the overnight crossing back to Southampton.

Once we’d finished our champagne (and because we were cold!) we went back to our cabin and joined Iris, before deciding to go to the Belvedere self-service restaurant tonight, rather than the Meridian, because they were serving an Asian buffet up there.  We enjoyed a sample of various Chinese and Thai cuisine, all washed down with some cold Tiger beer.

Then we returned to cabin A103 again where we reluctantly started doing some of our packing.  How the time had flown; tonight was our last night on the beautiful Arcadia; I could easily have spent a fortnight on board!

The show in the Palladium showlounge tonight was excellent; it was called “Reel to Reel” by the Headliners Theatre Company and consisted of lots of high-energy singing and dancing of excerpts from well-known musicals.  It was a great production accompanied by the superb live ship’s orchestra.  We’d seen it before on the Arcadia (and the Ventura) but it was obviously a first time for Iris and she enjoyed it very much.

Afterwards, Iris was tired after her full and busy day, so she excused herself around 9.30pm and headed back to our cabin.  Trevor and I thought we’d go to the Globe lounge where they were holding a quiz with a difference; it was called “Less is More” and was based on the TV gameshow Pointless.

There were not many people in the Globe; either everyone was away packing, or they’d decided to go elsewhere tonight.  One of the entertainment hosts came over and asked if Trevor and I wanted to participate in the gameshow and, because we always join in, we agreed.  She then went off to find three more victims… sorry… couples.  🙂

Once the game was ready to start (and there were a few more people filling up the Globe) we were called up to the stage area.  For those who don’t know, Pointless is a quiz with a difference, you have to accrue the fewest points, not the most.  There are questions which have several answers, and you have to come up with the least-common answer.  For example, if 100 people were asked to name a James Bond film, you have to guess which film fewest people would say (i.e. the lesser known ones).

The first question was about the books of Charles Dickens.  The first questions had to be answered by the ladies (no conferring!); one answered A Christmas Carol which scored 67 points, but one lady said Wuthering Heights (which wasn’t written by Dickens) and scored the top points of 100.  When it was my turn, I said Barnaby Rudge.  No-one else had suggested this, so I scored zero points – I’d found the pointless answer!  🙂

Thus the game continued, with the highest-scoring couples being eliminated after each round.  Trevor and I were booted out after round 2, which was based on Beatles songs (neither of which we know too much about).  But the losing couples still got a consolation prize – a nice little P&O branded USB flash drive.  🙂

We stayed to watch the rest of “Less is More”, then we made our way to the Rising Sun for tonight’s quiz, which was based on British TV comedies.  Not as easy as it sounded, however, as some of them went back to the 1950s on the old black and white televisions.  We only did the quiz in a half-hearted way and eventually gave up.  While we were there, we enjoyed a couple more drinks then returned to our cabin around 11.30pm, finished the packing, and put our cases outside the cabin door to be taken ashore in Southampton.

When we woke up the next morning, we were back where we started from.  Our cruise had ended, but our little holiday had not, as we were going to pop in to Yeovil to visit some friends we hadn’t seen in nearly 10 years, before continuing our journey back to Durham after an overnight stay.

All in all, it had been an enjoyable little trip, and I’m sure that P&O and the Arcadia will have gained some new fans afterwards.  🙂

 

 

 

 

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Woke up at 8.00am after an excellent night’s sleep. I’d been wearing some industrial-strength earplugs while I slept so nothing disturbed me at all, and I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I got out of bed, despite the fact that we’d had to put our watches forward an hour to European time.  Looking outside, the day seemed cloudy but dry, with barely any wind; a perfect November day, in fact.

We ate breakfast in the Belvedere self-service, and I enjoyed a selection of cold meats and cheeses with fresh pineapple and melon, washed down with orange juice and good hot coffee.  At around nine o’clock (which felt like 8.00am) a crowd of people came in; it looked as if they’d forgotten about the time difference or were just late risers, either way we were glad we’d missed the rush.

Afterwards we decided to go along to the shopping arcade and see if we could pick up any bargains.  In any case, I’d come out of the house without a coat or outdoor jacket; all I had was my fleece-lined corduroy jeans jacket which would probably be OK as long as it didn’t rain.  However, looking in the shops I spotted some “Right as Rain” cagoules by Joules; they are 100% waterproof and this one was a lightweight one as well as being longer than the usual cagoule length.  It was reduced to £31.00 so I bought it; I will just keep it in the suitcase permanently as it will never come amiss on holiday.  I also bought some Benefit mascara, my favourite brand.

After pottering around for a bit, we took a walk outside on deck in the calm but crisp air.  The Arcadia was only going along slowly, about 11-12 knots, and we could see the hazy outline of land in the distance, probably France.  Of course, a crossing to Zeebrugge can be done from Southampton overnight, but they were just stringing this out into a three-night cruise to give the passengers (particularly the first-timers) a taste of life at sea.

We then decided to go and have a cup of coffee while I did some of this blog.  Then we showed Iris all around the ship; from the Neptune pool deck with its retractable roof, to the well-equipped gym to the spa and hairdressing salon.

The morning passed in its usual pleasant way and, at lunchtime, we thought we’d go to the Neptune Grill on the pool deck where they were serving a light lunch.  I enjoyed a crisp green salad with cold meats and pâté and pickles, while Trevor and Iris had some fish, chips and mushy peas.  We each washed them down with a glass of cold beer, and spent some time just sitting people watching and chatting.  Some people were making the most of the swimming pool and hot tubs, but we hadn’t brought any cossies with us this time.

The noon-day navigational information from the bridge gave our position and the officer of the watch advised that the Arcadia would be dropping anchor at around 5.00pm before continuing into Zeebrugge at 5.00am tomorrow morning.

At 1.00pm we went along to the Rising Sun pub where they were holding a “Name That Tune” quiz.  We found the questions quite easy and scored 37/40; we guessed that there would be a lot of high scoring teams and indeed the team whose answers we marked got 39/40.  There were, however, a couple of teams who scored full marks, so it had to go to a tie-breaker.

We sat in the Rising Sun for a short while afterwards, before returning to cabin A103 for a half-hour power nap to make up for the hour we lost last night.

As it was a sea day, tonight was a formal evening.  There would be no captain’s cocktail party, however, as most cruise lines don’t do them for cruises under five days in length.  Nevertheless we always enjoy a chance to dress up, and it was a chance for Iris to wear her long dress and glam up a bit.  😊

I went up to the pool bar and got myself a glass of prosecco to drink while I was getting ready.  I took a while doing my make-up and I’d brought a lovely platinum blonde bobbed wig with me to save having to spend ages on my hair.  Then, at 6.00pm I donned my lime green and black full-length dress which had a neat little bolero jacket trimmed in sequins; I teamed my ensemble with a pair of gold high heels.  Then we all decided to go and see the official ship’s photographer to get our formal portraits taken.

This brought us nicely to dinner time, so along we went to table #45 in the Meridian restaurant and enjoyed another scrumptious meal washed down with wine and finished off with cheese and a nice glass of ruby port.  Then we had time for a cocktail up in the Crow’s Nest before hot-footing it along to the Palladium theatre for tonight’s entertainment.

The show featured a singer called Jon Fisher, who was a dead ringer for Gary Barlow from Take That, and indeed that was who he was going to perform as tonight.  He sang a lot of the best of Gary’s songs, such as Patience and Let It Shine, as well as some of the classic Take That hits such as Never Forget and Back For Good.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable show, although I think the ladies enjoyed it more than the men.  😊

We pottered around a bit and by the time Iris and I had joined the inevitable queue for the ladies’ loos we arrived at the Rising Sun too late to join the quiz.   We therefore went to the Spinnaker Bar and listened for a short while to the musician there, before returning to the Rising Sun at 10.30pm for Karaoke Hour.  I was on two minds whether or not to get up and sing, as I am still recovering from a cold/cough and my voice is still a little throaty.  I did get up and sing Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinéad O’Connor, but I had difficulty hitting the high notes and it wasn’t up to my usual standard.

Around 11.00pm Iris was flagging and wished us goodnight before returning to our cabin.  Trevor and I stayed longer, and I got up and sang Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good which I managed a lot better as it’s for a much lower voice.  We then remained in the Rising Sun until around midnight, and had a quick look outside before returning to our cabin.  The Arcadia was at anchor now in the North Sea, and all was calm and still.

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Well, it might seem strange to be writing about cruising so soon after our last one, but it seemed to be a long time until our next cruise, so we decided to squeeze in a mini-cruise of three days on board the P&O ship Arcadia, a beautiful vessel on which we’ve cruised three times previously (2005, 2007 and 2013).

On this occasion, however, we decided to bring along my Auntie Iris.  We had been trying to persuade her to come with us for a couple of years now, but this 3-day voyage would be just enough to give her a taster of life on the ocean waves, to see if she liked it and, like us, caught the cruising bug for a future, longer cruise.  😊

We decided to drive down to Southampton as it was probably cheaper, when there was three of us, than taking the train.  We picked up my aunt at 8.00am to allow and arrival time at Southampton of around 2.00pm, when we hoped we’d be able to board more or less immediately.

The Wednesday morning traffic was busy, with many lorries thundering along the motorway.  The weather, however, was crisp but bright, and we hoped that it would remain so for the duration of the cruise.  Crossing the North Sea in November is a bit of a gamble; we’ve crossed over to Rotterdam before, in December, and the sea was like a mill pond; another time we did it in March and sailed straight into a Force 12 hurricane.  High waves and heavy seas never bother Trevor and me in the slightest, but we didn’t want the weather to put my Auntie Iris off cruising for life!

At around 11.00am we decided to stop at Watford Gap for a half-hour break (particularly for Trevor, who was driving) and a cuppa and something light to eat, as we’d been up since 6.30am.  We didn’t want to eat a lot as we could easily do far too much eating and drinking on the cruise ship – cruises are, after all, famous (or infamous) for their gastronomical delights.  😊

A previous look at the Marine Traffic app on my phone had told us that Arcadia was the only cruise ship in port today, so that meant that it wouldn’t be too crowded.  Therefore, the remainder of the run down to Southampton Docks was straightforward and not too heavy on traffic, and we arrived around 1.30pm, driving along the front to see if we could spot the Arcadia moored up.  We didn’t see her this time, so we went along to the place where we were to park for the next three days.

Instead of using a traditional car park, we had decided to take advantage of the trend that sees local residents in an area renting their drives or garages as parking space to visitors.  It’s a great idea; the homeowners are getting extra income from spaces that would not otherwise be used, and the visitors and getting cheap and secure parking.  Web sites such as MyParkingSpace and ParkAtMyHouse are the ones to go to if you want to look for cheap, longer term parking.  The three days would only cost us £15.00.

Once we arrived, the homeowner greeted us and parked our car in his spacious driveway.  For six quid, he agreed to give us a lift to the passenger terminal, and we arrived just before 2.00pm.  The Arcadia looked different; she had just come out of dry dock in Hamburg where she’d had a refit, and her livery had changed.  Instead of the white hull and yellow funnel, her white bow was decorated with the red, white and blue of the Union flag, and her funnel was dark blue.

It was exciting being back in the familiar cruise terminal.  We had time for a quick drink; Trevor enjoyed a well-deserved bottle of Spitfire after his six-hour drive, and I partook of a glass of chilled Prosecco, cold and sparkling and gorgeous, tasting all the more so because it was the prelude to a cruise.  Yay!  This is our 44th cruise but the excitement never dwindles; I am just like a kid on Christmas morning every time.

Once our drinks were finished, we joined the quick-moving queue to board, got our cruise cards and happily made our way through security and up to the sky walk to board the fabulous Arcadia.  She may have looked different on the outside, but inside she was just as familiar as ever, and it was great to be back again.  😊

We took the lift to Deck 8 where we had been allocated cabin A103, a spacious balcony cabin.  It had a queen size bed and a sitting area with a sofa and coffee table and a dressing table and chair.  The sofa would convert into a bed for my aunt to use, and there was a curtain that pulled across to allow for a modicum of privacy.

Despite the fact that it was November, a wintry sunshine streamed through the balcony doors, and we went outside where there were a couple of reclining chairs, a footstool and a small side table.  As there was no wind, it was pleasant to sit outside if you were wrapped up well.

Our suitcases had not yet arrived, and we had about 40 minutes until we had to attend lifeboat drill so, leaving my Auntie Iris to rest and take in her surroundings, Trevor and I decided to go to the Spinnaker Bar and kick-start our cruise with a nice glass of something; Trevor had a pint of John Smith’s and I had a chilled prosecco.  Looking around, it was hard to believe it was nearly five years (January 2013) since we had last sailed on Arcadia; it was just like coming home.  😊

After our drink we returned to cabin A103 and waited for the signal to collect our lifejackets and proceed to our muster station, which was the piano bar on deck 3.  We had to touch our cruise cards to a scanner so that they would know we’d attended, as it is compulsory.  This was obviously the more modern way than the usual roll call.  The safety briefing over, our time was now our own and we could enjoy our unexpected mini-cruise, which we’d only booked a fortnight ago!

We went out onto the promenade deck with Iris and had a slow walk round in the calm weather.  Three times round the deck is the equivalent of a mile, but we only took a gentle stroll to the other side before going back into the warmth of the Arcadia’s interior.

As we’d booked last minute and hadn’t yet been allocated a table for dinner, we went down to the Meridian Restaurant on deck 2 and joined a short queue to see if we could get a table on first sitting at 6.30pm; we were assigned table #45, a table for three.

We returned to cabin A103 and saw that the Arcadia had set sail and was slowly making her way down Southampton Water.  The Solent was flat calm and, as we were high up in the ship, we were unable to discern any vibration; in fact you’d hardly know you were on a ship.  Our luggage had arrived by now, so we unpacked everything and stashed the cases under the bed.  As the cruise was only three nights it didn’t take long.

We got ourselves washed and changed and ready for dinner; tonight the dress code was smart-casual so I wore a dark purple lace dress with a pair of nude-coloured high heel shoes.

We were ready around 6.00pm, so we all went down to the Spinnaker Bar which was just along from the restaurant and we enjoyed some pre-dinner cocktails.  I had a Marguerita while Iris enjoyed a Piña Colada and Trevor stuck to his usual pint.  Then, at 6.30pm, we made our way to table #45 and enjoyed the usual delicious four-course meal, washed down with wine and finished off with a nice glass of amaretto.  Iris remarked that she could see how it would be very easy to gain weight on a cruise!  😊

After our leisurely dinner we went along to the Palladium theatre and bagged ourselves some good seats down at the front.  Tonight’s show was called “Walk Like A Man” and was a tribute band to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  The show was really good, and the guys did the Four Seasons proud; they sang all their hits such as Oh What A Night, Sherry Baby, Grease Is The Word, Working My Way Back To You and, of course, Walk Like A Man.  It was an excellent performance and we all enjoyed it a lot.

Afterwards we made our way along to the Rising Sun pub for the Welcome Aboard quiz and to enjoy a few more drinks.  Iris was flagging a bit by now, so she said goodnight and Trevor went with her to make sure she could find her way back to A103, where Savio, our cabin steward, had made the sofa bed up to a comfortable-looking bed with crisp sheets and pillows.

Trevor then returned to the Rising Sun, where we remained until around midnight, listening to the music and just enjoying being back on the Arcadia.  Because this is just a “taster cruise” and a lot of first-timers were on board, we noticed that the average age of the passengers was much younger than the usual 50+ demographic; there were quite a few people in their 30s.

Then we went back to cabin A103 and settled down to sleep, while the Arcadia glided along on the flat-calm English Channel.  We had a day at sea to look forward to tomorrow.

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KLM from Quito

We got up at 7.30 this morning, feeling quite sad that we would be flying home later today.  A lot of our fellow travellers had already departed for home last night (and even on Sunday night), so there were only four of us left now.

We enjoyed a delicious breakfast in the Bistro Latino one more time, then decided to take a walk outside.  The sun was already very hot, even at 8.30 in the morning, and the roads were very busy with the rush-hour traffic; we could hear the constant whistling of the policemen on traffic duty as we walked along.  We had considered taking a taxi to the Quito teleferico, or cable car, but I was worried that it might be further than we thought, or we wouldn’t have time, or various other niggles which would prevent us returning to the hotel for our taxi to the airport at 1.00pm.

We walked through the busy streets, looking in the shop windows and taking in our surroundings. After about a mile or so, we reached a park which had a few stalls open selling souvenirs and the usual holiday tat.  We sat on a park bench in the shade of a large tree, and watched several groups of people, each carrying a furled banner or flag, approaching a large marquee that had been set up.  It looked as if it were a protest or some other public gathering, and we could hear someone testing out a microphone and loudhailer.

After 15 minutes or so, we decided to take a slow stroll back and maybe have a cold beer in a little local bar somewhere, as it would be cheaper than the hotel.  We therefore ambled along amid the sounds of the city, and eventually we found a nice little cool and dimly lit café/bar; in we went, Trevor asking for “dos cervezas, por favor”.  (Everyone’s essential Spanish phrase) 😊

It was pleasant in the bar; we were the only customers in there as it was, after all, not yet lunchtime on a working day.  So we enjoyed our beers among the peace and quiet, and shared a third bottle between us before making our way back to the hotel to finish our packing. ☹

Back in room 640 of the Marriott, it didn’t take long to put the rest of the things in the cases and lock them up.  We then had time for a half-hour power nap before we had to go down to the lobby for 12.45pm.  At the front desk, we settled our bill, handed in our key cards and met the other British couple who were on our flight.  Then the porter whisked our two suitcases away, ready to put them into the private-hire car when it arrived.

At one o’clock exactly the car appeared, our cases were loaded into the back, and we climbed in, taking a last look back at the Marriott hotel as we pulled away and into the busy traffic.  It took about 45 minutes to get to Mariscal Sucre International Airport, and our taxi driver deposited us and our luggage on the pavement outside the terminal building, wishing us a good flight and a safe journey home.

Inside, we joined the quick-moving queue at the KLM desk and checked in our bags, before making our way through security.  Once air-side, we had about an hour and a half to kill before our flight, so we decided to go to the executive lounge where we’d be able to get some lunch as well as a couple of drinks.  This we did, passing the time in quiet and pleasant surroundings, much nicer than the standard airport departure lounge.  😊

Eventually our flight was called, and we proceeded to the gate, where we were able to board straight away.  The flight home would take longer than the flight out, because we were stopping off at Guayaquil (Ecuador’s most populous city on the Pacific coast) before continuing to Amsterdam.  We hoped we would be able to leave the aircraft during that time, otherwise it was going to make a long and boring flight even longer and more boring.

Soon we were airborne and advised that the flight time to Guayaquil was 30 minutes and that we would have a 90 minute stopover before taking on more passengers.  Thankfully we would be allowed off the plane, but obviously had to remain air side.

We hardly seemed to be up in the air before the captain started his descent again, and on arrival at the airport we were all given yellow “IN TRANSIT” cards and advised we’d be allowed to leave our bags and other things on the aircraft because we’d have the same seats for the remainder of the flight.  We took our carry on bags with us anyway, as I didn’t want to leave my laptop, phone, Kindle, iPod etc behind.

When we left the aircraft and walked into the terminal building, it seemed ludicrous that we had to go through security again, half an hour after previously doing so – what could we have picked up on the plane?  So our bags were x-rayed again and we had to go through the metal-detectors and all the usual rigmarole; I even had to discard the 250ml bottle of water I’d been given on the plane as it was over the 100ml limit!  What a farce.

We then had over an hour of playing the waiting game and hanging around before we were called to board the aircraft once again.  We were in the same seats in the middle set of four; Trevor on the left hand aisle and me on his right, then an empty seat beside me and a lady in the aisle in the right.  Behind us only two of the four seats were occupied; I was pleased to see there was no-one behind me as this meant I’d be able to recline my seat if I wanted.

The Boeing 777 took to the skies once again, and we tried to settle down.  It was difficult because the air conditioning was on full blast and the aircraft felt very cold.  We therefore opened our blankets and wrapped them around ourselves from neck to toes; we hoped the temperature would soon warm up.  All around us we could hear babies crying and kids yelling and we also hoped they’d quieten down; long-haul flights are tedious enough without noisy children making it worse.

Some of the boredom was relieved by the appearance of the drinks trolley, followed soon by our meal, then the duty-free items.  As the babies and children fell asleep and the plane eventually grew quieter, we got ourselves ready to settle down and try to sleep.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a commotion occurred in the seat behind me, just to my right.  A man stood up and started shouting in a foreign language at the top of his voice and gesticulating at his neighbour.  My heart leapt into my mouth; I thought we were being hijacked!!  Four stewardesses all converged on the guy’s seat as other passengers craned their necks and looked around in alarm.

I don’t know what the confrontation was about, but it would seem that one of the guys had annoyed his neighbour in some way, hence the argument.  One of the stewardesses took the guy away to the back of the aircraft (the one who was shouted at, rather than the shouter) to find out what was going on; he was then moved to another vacant seat.  When he returned to his original seat to get his stuff out of the overhead locker, his neighbour started having another go at him!  Eventually all was quiet again, but we noticed that the cabin crew kept a very close eye on this fellow.  We were still flying over South America and would soon be over the Caribbean islands, so there would be plenty of places where the aircraft could divert and land if necessary, and so eject any disruptive passenger.

After calm had reigned again for some time, the aircraft lights were dimmed and we tried to get some sleep.  Usually I don’t get good quality sleep on an aeroplane, but this time I reclined my seat back, adjusted the headrest at a suitable angle and used my neck-pillow, and I was able to snatch some good shut-eye, particularly as the air-conditioning had been moderated to a much more comfortable temperature.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Flight KL755 sped on through the night, and we watched its progress, heading north-east over the Atlantic on our SkyMap, as the hours slowly counted down.  Now and again the cabin crew would come around with glasses of water to keep us hydrated, and once we were within two hours of Amsterdam the lights came back on again, and the passengers slowly came back to life.

Before breakfast we were each given the usual hot towel to try to get rid of the grubby feeling you always have after sitting for hours on a plane with 300 other people.  We then enjoyed orange juice, omelette, fresh fruit, coffee and water as we watched the time counting down and saw that we were flying over the good old English Channel and then the North Sea.

Finally, the “fasten seatbelts” sign was illuminated and we all buckled up as the aircraft made its final approach into Schiphol, Amsterdam, and we landed at 14:00 hours local time.  The longest part of our journey was over.  😊

We thankfully disembarked the aircraft and stretched our legs as we made our way through security yet again, for the connecting flight to Newcastle.  Then it was just a matter of whiling away a couple of hours before the last leg of our journey, the hour-long flight back over the North Sea.

On arrival we retrieved our cases more or less immediately, and trundled them out of the airport to the long-term car park, where we loaded them (and ourselves) into our car for the journey home.  It took a little longer than usual because we’d hit the rush-hour traffic, but we arrived at our house just before 6.00pm.  Our amazing, one-of-a-kind, incomparable holiday was over.  It is one we will never forget, for all the right reasons.

Go to the Galapagos Islands.  Just do it.

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Got up at seven o’clock and made our way to the Bistro Latino restaurant downstairs for a delicious breakfast washed down with good hot Ecuadorian coffee. Outside, the weather was cloudy but fairly warm.

There were 12 of us who had booked for this day-long tour, and we boarded the bus around 8.00am and set off through the Monday morning rush-hour traffic.  Today we were going to visit the “cloud forest” in the highlands, and our first stop was to a village and farmland which had grown in the crater of an extinct volcano, the Pululahua crater.

Our coach parked up and we all got out for a photo opportunity and to use the restrooms if we needed to.  There were several viewing points and it was extremely picturesque to look into the valley from our high vantage point – what a fantastic place to live!

The Pululahua crater is completely inactive (its last known eruption was in 500 BC) and in its small dwellings it is inhabited mostly by farmers, with is a town called Nublin. The first settlers in the crater were the Incas.  Later in the year 1825 the Dominicos monks settled in the crater to search for treasures, extract limestone and to sow the land.  In 1905 with the Liberal Revolution the lands were confiscated by the government and later in 1979 given back to the farmers.

We stayed here a short while before continuing on our way; our next stop was to the Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve where there were 32 species of hummingbirds.

After about 20 minutes or so, our coach pulled over and we entered the Alambi reserve.  We walked along some pathways cut amongst the trees and bushes, and arrived at a single-storey building which served as a guest house as well as the owner’s home.  We were shown into the back ‘garden’ where some plastic chairs had been set out if you wanted to take a seat to watch the birds.  Several feeders were attached to the many trees and bushes; these contained nectar and some of them were shaped like the trumpet-shaped flowers into which hummingbirds insert their long beaks in search of the nectar.  While there are 32 species at the reserve, the guy told us that we would typically see 12-15 species.

Wow!  There were loads of beautifully-coloured hummingbirds flitting around in the trees and bushes and settling on the feeders, which were numbered, so our guide could explain what we could see.  Some of the hummingbirds were tiny, and as they flew their wings were just a blur; in some of the smaller breeds their wings can beat at 80 times per second.  Hummingbirds can subsequently hover, and they are the only species of bird able to fly backwards.

We spent a good half-hour or so watching the hummingbirds and taking photos. The sun had come out now and it was fairly hot.  We needed to use the loo and this gave us the chance to have a look inside the guest-house; it contained three twin-bedded rooms, a living room with a large fireplace and a kitchen and dining room, as well as the bathroom.  It looked lovely and cosy and of course it was set in an idyllic location, in the middle of nowhere up in the highlands of Ecuador.  What a gorgeous place to come and stay if you wanted to get away from it all and get closer to nature.

We took a guided walk through the gardens, which contained lots of fruit trees including bananas, oranges, mandarins, guavas and coffee.  The owner went and picked some mandarins and gave us one each; it was the first time I’d ever had one straight from the tree – it was delicious and juicy.

We continued our stroll through the beautiful gardens in a large loop until we arrived back at our bus, then it was time for us to go to the next stop, the El Quetzel chocolate factory.  Here we would learn how chocolate is made, from “bean to bar”.

The 12 of us entered the chocolate factory and were introduced to Jorge, our guide.  He took us into a room where we were seated, six each side, at a long table, Jorge at the head.  He then showed us a large cacao pod, which he opened up and let us try the fruit that surrounded the seed (similar to what we’d done at the Equator).  Then he explained how the large seeds are dried, fermented and roasted in small batches; the roasting process is what imparts the distinctive caramelised “chocolatey” flavour we all know and love.

We were taken to a large “greenhouse” which was really just a large wooden frame with heavy duty plastic over it; simple but very effective as it was very warm inside.  Here there were large wooden boxes containing the cacao beans and covered with layers of sacks; this builds up a tremendous heat and allows the beans to ferment.  Afterwards the beans are spread out in wooden trays and allowed to dry naturally; after so long they are ready to be roasted.  Roasting is done in large metal drums that rotate over a heat-source.

Pure 100% chocolate is bitter, so the purest chocolate that they sold was the 85% cocoa mass.  We had the chance to taste three types, 85%, 77% and 67%.  I liked the 85% chocolate the best, because I don’t have a particularly sweet tooth.

We also tried some of the dark chocolate with other added ingredients, such as ginger, coffee, salt and chilli peppers.  They were all scrumptious, especially the ginger.  We were also shown (and given the chance to try) other products and by-products of the cocoa process.  These were tea brewed from the dried and ground up outer pod (which still contained a hint of chocolate as well as drinking chocolate powder and cocoa-butter skin softener.  Jorge also explained to us how the empty outer pods were dried, painted bright colours, and used for decoration; in short, all of the pod is used.

After our very informative tour, we went to the shop and bought some 85% chocolate, some ginger chocolate and I also got a small pot of the cocoa butter to use as lip salve.  All in all, an excellent visit.

We all got back on the bus for the next part of our tour, to a butterfly garden, ‘Mariposas de Mindo’.  On arrival, the guide explained life-cycle of the butterfly, from eggs to caterpillar to chrysalis and metamorphosis to the beautiful butterfly.  She explained how the various species of butterfly were bred here, not just for study purposes, but also to release into the wild.

We were then allowed into the butterfly garden, which was a very large, high-ceilinged room containing trees, bushes, a couple of ponds and some benches on which to sit.  There were also some quieter, sheltered areas containing the chrysalises.

Inside, butterflies were flying around everywhere.  There was the massive, distinctive “owl-eye” butterfly with its large spot which looked uncannily like an owl’s eye, hence its name.  This was a large insect with an average wing span of 130mm, and there were a lot of these around; we even saw some brand new ones which had just emerged from their chrysalises and were waiting for their wings to dry.  Amazing!

In all, there were over 25 species of colourful butterflies, some bright blue ones, orange and brown, pink ones and many others; unfortunately I didn’t make a note of all the species.  Plates containing mashed banana (which the butterflies love) were placed around the garden, and on some of them we could see the butterflies feeding.  If you put a small amount of banana mash on your hand and waited patiently, with any luck a butterfly would land on your and start eating out of your hand!  This is what happened to Trevor, and indeed we saw other people with butterflies perching on their heads, shoulders, backs and even on the frames of one lady’s glasses!  It was a lovely, colourful, tranquil place and we learned a lot.

When we came out of the butterfly garden we were all good and hungry and ready for a late lunch after 2.00pm.  Our final stop, therefore, was at a pleasant restaurant where we were booked in for a four-course meal.  The restaurant was set in lush grounds which contained more hummingbirds, flitting from tree to tree.

The meal was delicious; I started with a sort of fried pancake containing mixed vegetables and meat, accompanied by a spicy sauce.  This was followed by a traditional potato soup, then the main course of chicken in a mushroom sauce with vegetables, and finished either with dessert of coffee.  I chose the latter.  We shared our table with Brian and Karen and spent a very pleasant hour in there.

Afterwards it was back on the coach for the 2-hour return journey to Quito and the Marriott Hotel.  What a worthwhile trip it had been; everyone agreed.

Arriving back in the Marriott around 5.30pm, we decided we wouldn’t go to dinner, especially after our large lunch which we’d eaten pretty late anyway.  We therefore went to the bar and enjoyed a cold beer before going back to our room and getting showered and changed and watching TV and resting for a while.

Then we returned to the bar where we saw Tom and Lee-Anne sitting in front of their laptop; Tom said they were looking at different cruises trying to decide which one to do next.  We don’t have that ‘problem’ as we already have another three cruises booked, as well as a trip to Nepal!  😊

We had another couple of drinks each in the bar, and I was reluctant to return to our room because this was our last night in Quito, and indeed the last night of our holiday, as we were flying home tomorrow afternoon.  Tempus fugit – it seemed no time at all since we’d arrived here.

We went back to our room around 11.00pm, and set the alarm for 7.30am.  We had the morning at leisure tomorrow and we wanted to make the most of it.  We slept very well after an excellent day.

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OUR WEDDING ANNIVERSARY

Woke up early this morning with mixed feelings.  Happy, because it was our 29th Wedding Anniversary and what a fantastic place to be spending it in, and sad because we would have to disembark the Xpedition at 11.00am for the return flight to Quito, and we didn’t want our incredible Galápagos voyage to be at an end.

We got ourselves sorted out and went along to the Darwin Restaurant, armed with the bottle of fizz we had been given earlier on in the cruise.  We’d booked a table for six so that Jan and Jeff, and Neil and Gail could join us for some breakfast Buck’s Fizz.  Everyone arrived on time and we all took our seats, the others wishing us “happy anniversary” as Trevor removed the wire muzzle from the champers.  The cork shot out with a loud bang and hit the ceiling, to much laughter.  Then he poured our six glasses, and we mixed it with our breakfast orange juice.  We asked the waiter to take a photo of the six of us, and then we tucked into a hearty, delicious breakfast while enjoying the conversation and the laughter.  😊

Afterwards we returned to cabin 416 and collected our carry-on flight bags and had a last look round before leaving for the last time.  A small part of me would remain behind in cabin 416 in more ways than one; my cruise card with my name and stateroom number had inadvertently got lost down the back of the dressing table and I’d had to be issued with a new one, so it will be stuck there until the next time the ship has a refit.  Other people would be coming and going in that cabin, and all the time a card with “Debbie King” on it will be out of sight behind the dresser.  😊

We made our way to the rear decks outside the Beagle Grill and sat with Jeff and Jan while we waited to be called to embark the Zodiacs.  Eventually they were ready for us and asked for the first 16 people.  We were given the now-familiar orange life-vests and climbed into the Zodiac which roared off over the surf as usual.  From my vantage point at the rear of the inflatable, I could see the Xpedition receding into the distance and really felt quite sad.  I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t the end of our holiday; we still had another two nights to spend in the excellent Marriott hotel in Quito.

We disembarked the craft at the other side with a sense of déjà vu; it didn’t seem five minutes since we were excitedly boarding the Zodiac to commence our cruise.  Then it was off on the bus for the short ride to the airport.

As we already had our boarding passes all we had to do was make our way to the departure lounge at gate D4.  When we got there, we found that Celebrity Cruises had reserved the VIP lounge for us, so we were able to spend the next couple of hours in comfort.  We sat with Jeff and Jan, and Neil and Gail, and enjoyed free teas, coffees and soft drinks (beer was $4.00 if you wanted it) as well as some snacks of sandwiches, cake and fruits.  Lots of little sparrow-like birds were flying around inside the departure lounge; I think they’d managed to get in through the open lattice work high up on the walls, and it was much more difficult for them to escape again.  Instead, they were flying and hopping around in search of titbits; one of them landed on Trevor’s shoulder and a couple perched on Gail’s knee, clearly after the watermelon seeds left on her plate.

Eventually our flight was called, and we all boarded the aircraft for the two-hour plane ride back to Quito.  All was uneventful until we were coming in to land; we almost seemed to be down on my side of the aircraft and I waited for the slight bump to indicate our landing, but all of the sudden the aircraft engine noise increased and we soared off into the air again. Our landing had been aborted!

We nervously wondered what was going on as the aeroplane continued climbing over the mountainous landscape.  It transpired, however, that there had been a very strong cross-wind and the pilot had deemed it dangerous to attempt to land at that time, so he was going to have another go.  Round he went until he lined himself up with the runway once again, and this time we came in without any problem.  Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.  🙂

Inside Mariscal Sucre International Airport once again, we passed through security then out into the sunshine for the ride to the hotel.  At this point we lost Jeff and Jane and Neil and Gail, as they were extending their holiday with a visit to Peru and Machu Picchu, whereas we were just going back to Quito for a couple of nights before the flight home on Tuesday (and back to work on Thursday).  ☹

As it was Sunday afternoon and a lot quieter than when we’d arrived, it only took 45 minutes to get back to the Marriott hotel.  This time we were allocated room 640, which was very similar to room 712 apart from it having two king-size beds instead of one.

We unpacked some of our stuff, then went downstairs to the lobby and bar for a cold beer.  We’d been advised by the Celebrity rep that there were still some included tours and meals tonight, then if we wanted to do an organised tour tomorrow we could do so at our own expense.  There was an all-day tour available, included 4-course lunch, for $99.00 each, so we decided to book that one.

We all gathered back in the hotel foyer for about 5.00pm, to go on a shopping trip in the city.  We boarded the coach and it took us a short distance to an indoor market, which consisted of rows and rows of stalls selling anything from hand-made artisan chocolate to coffee to alpaca scarves to hand-knitted garments.  It was a veritable Aladdin’s cave of bargains.  I bought a soft alpaca scarf/wrap in shades of pink, as well as some of those little hand-woven friendship bracelets; I also bought a chunky hand-knitted hat with earflaps and pompoms; it will be great for the impending British winter.

Trevor bought a grey alpaca scarf for Ben, our grandson, and a cotton bandanna for himself; we’d seen a lot of the locals (most notable the Zodiac drivers) wearing these pulled up over the lower half of their faces to keep out the wind and the sun.  I could have bought a lot more, but Trevor dragged me out of there before I could spend any more money.  😊

The market started closing up about 6.00pm, so we all boarded the bus once more for the next visit – to Galeria Latina which was a much more up-market (and consequently expensive) place.  The jewellery and other items were gorgeous, but they were expensive; one necklace I liked made of silver and semi-precious stones cost $475.00.  Needless to say we didn’t buy anything in there.

On arrival back at the Marriott, we were advised that dinner was at 7.30pm in La Hacienda  restaurant.  We therefore returned to our room to get washed and changed; I wore a pink dress teamed with my new pink alpaca wrap.

Dinner was delicious, but we could feel the slight effects of the higher altitude; a few hours ago we were at sea level and now we were over 9,000 feet.  One of the effects is fatigue and lack of appetite, so I didn’t do the meal justice.  I started with beef consommé and home-baked bread, followed by steak, corn on the cob, potatoes and fresh vegetables; tasty though it was, I wasn’t really hungry.  I accompanied the meal with a glass of Diet Coke and some water.

After dinner we just returned to our room as the bar wasn’t open; on Sundays in Ecuador the licencing laws state that alcohol can only be served up to 10.00pm, and only if accompanied by a meal.  As we were quite tired anyway and knew we’d have to be up at 7.00am to be ready for our excursion at eight o’clock, we just settled down for the night, in a room that was quiet and still.  It had certainly been a different way to spend a wedding anniversary.

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Today would turn out to be a very full, different and interesting day spent on Santa Cruz island.  We were up and ready and breakfasted in time for our usual departure at 8.00am; in fact, ours was the first inflatable to depart for the island.  Today we were going to see that most famous and symbolic Galápagos animal, the Giant Tortoise.

On arrival, we had a short bus ride until we were led by our guide Myra to the Charles Darwin Research Station where baby Galápagos tortoises are hatched and raised before being released back into the wild.  The tortoises have a very long lifespan, some living between 150-180 years, and the young ones are not released until their shells measure at least 21cm in length.

The Research Centre aims to preserve the delicate ecology of the islands and prevent the spread of the non-native, or ‘invasive’ species of plants and animals.  All its staff are voluntary and visitors can make a donation by purchasing various items in the on-site shop.

We looked at the tortoises in various stages of development, from tiny ones only a few inches across to larger ones that were over 100 years old.  We were quite awed to look at a creature that had been alive and kicking long before any of us had even been born.  We were quite amused by some t-shirts you could buy in the shop that had a picture of a tortoise on them with a speech-bubble coming out of its mouth saying “I knew Charles Darwin”, alluding to the great age some of them reach.  😊

We also learned all about “Lonesome George”, a famous Pinta tortoise who was discovered in 1971 and was the only one of his species, making him the rarest animal in the world.  You can read an interesting Wikipedia article about Lonesome George here.  We finished by going to see the stuffed remains of this remarkable tortoise after he was brought back to the Galápagos islands in February 2017.

After spending quite some time looking at the baby tortoises and learning all about them, Myra told us we now had some free time to spend; we would meet later on at the fish market in the town.  She said we couldn’t get lost; all we had to do was make sure the ocean was always on our left hand side.

We walked along the road at a leisurely pace, with the tang of salt in our nostrils and the soporific, unceasing sounds of the sea washing onto the shore.  Eventually we came to the town and walked along, looking in the shop windows at the unusual little souvenirs and the enjoying the shabby-chic charm of the place.

We casually strolled among the shops and I bought a necklace and earring set I liked the look of; we then continued ambling along until our noses told us we were near the fish market.  We saw some guys stacking crates of fresh lobsters and langoustines, and nearby we saw several pelicans and a large sea-lion who had obviously been attracted by the smell of the fish.  Small boats bobbed on the shoreline and once again we were captivated by the scene.

We wandered further along to the end of the road, and a large square, before making our way back to the fish market to meet up with our guide and the rest of our party.

Afterwards we retured to the bus for the next exciting part of our adventure, something we’d never participated in before – tree planting.  We were each going to the Galápagos highlands to plant a tree of the Scalesia genus, a tree endemic to the Galápagos.

After a journey of about 20 minutes, in which we climbed higher and the landscape gave way to more trees, bushes and flowers, we arrived at the planting site, and we first of all had to exchange our trainers for a pair of Wellington boots that we’d reserved in advance with our sizes.  We found a mesh bag marked “416” (our cabin number), which contained a pair of wellies each for Trevor and me.  One we’d donned our wellies we were each given a trowel, then an immature plant and a cork label, marked “Xpedition” plus a unique number, and we ventured into the forest where several holes had already been dug in which we were to plant our trees.

We each selected a hole, then knelt to our task, the scent of freshly-dug earth in our noses.  We planted our little trees, tied the labels on loosely (to allow for growth), the took a photo for posterity.  I was enchanted by the thought that these plants would flourish and grow, and form full trees long after Trevor and I had departed this earth.  Amazing!

After everyone had planted their trees, we all handed our wellies back in and reclaimed our trainers before boarding the bus once more for a visit to The Ranch, a large open-sided restaurant set in acres of rough grass and some trees and small pools.  On our way, we could already see several of the famed Galápagos giant tortoises at every stage of growth.  These were the wild ones, out in their natural habitat.  Several times the bus had to slow right down because a large tortoise had wandered into the side of the road.  😊

We arrived at the Ranch (in fact our bus was the first one to arrive) and we made a bee-line to wash the remains of the soil from our hands before lunch.  We were then shown to our long table and offered, juice, water, wine or beer before being invited to help ourselves to some fresh sliced fruits from the buffet.

This was then followed by a delicious meal consisting of Ecuadorian ceviche, various meats, vegetables, rice or quinoa and followed by crème caramel, a sort of milk pudding, or sticky cake, all washed down with another chilled glass of vino blanco.  😊

Afterwards we were all entertained by a group of children and young people, who were dressed in traditional Ecuadorian costumes and who performed a series of lively songs and dances for us.  At the end, they asked members of the audience to get up with them; I was dragged up to dance by a teenaged Ecuadorian boy, with whom I found it impossible to keep up.  It was all good fun though; a fantastic meal and fabulous entertainment.

After we all assembled outside once again, we had to put on another pair of Wellingtons because this time we were taking a walk around, looking at the giant tortoises in the wild.  There were quite a few of them, and you had to be careful not to get too close to startle them, otherwise they’d retract their heads into their shells.  We got lots of great photographs of what is probably the Galápagos most famous icon.

Then we were all back on the bus for around 3.30pm for a ride back to the pier.  The Zodiacs were going to be leaving every 30 minutes (until 6.30pm) to take us back to the Xpedition if we wanted to stay later.  Trevor and I had seen and done so much today already though, and in the back of our minds was the niggling reminder that we’d have to make a start with our packing, as tonight was our last night on board this beautiful vessel.  ☹

We arrived back to the Xpedition around 3.45pm, and went back to cabin 416 to get showered and changed, and chuck a few things in the cases that we wouldn’t need again this cruise.  Then we had a couple of drinks in the fairly quiet Discovery Lounge, where a local artist had been invited to display his original paintings and other crafts.  The paintings all featured Galápagos wildlife and colours in all their glory, and were not bad value at $180.00 each, however we simply have no available wall-space left at home on which to hang them, so we had to give it a miss.

We returned our cabin for a half-hour power nap, then met up later on with Jeff and Jan for the “Best Pictures of the Cruise” slide-show which was to be shown in the Discovery Lounge.  This was a PowerPoint slideshow featuring the best of the photos that our naturalists had taken over the duration of the voyage, and each colourful photo elicited “oohs” and “aahs” from the audience, accompanied by panpipe and Latin music.  The slideshow featured all of Mother Nature’s Galápagos wonders and creatures in all their splendour, and it brought a gigantic lump to my throat, particularly when the show ended with the sight of the Ecuadorian flag flying from the rear mast of the Xpedition as the sun went down over the Pacific.  Oh wow – how completely privileged had we all been to be a part of this?

After the show, we were surprised and delighted when Monica, the cruise director, announced that each of us would receive a USB stick containing a copy of the slideshow, as well as all the other photos that had been taken, a recipe for Ecuador ceviche, and recipes for some of the many cocktails we’d enjoyed on this incredible voyage of discovery. What a lovely gesture on the part of Celebrity Cruises.  😊

After the show there was a brief Farewell Cocktail party at which we were joined by Captain Fausto Pacheco and some of his officers, and they thanked us all for coming and hoped we’d be back on a Celebrity ship soon.   Then it was time to go to dinner, and everyone made the most of our “last supper” before going back to our cabins to finish the packing and seal our cases; which would be taken ashore at 5.00am tomorrow morning for the flight back to Quito.

We ended the evening by going along to the Discovery Lounge with Jeff and Jan, and were surprised to find the place nearly empty; we thought everyone would have been making the most of the last evening.

Then around 11.30pm we settled down in cabin 416 for our final night aboard the fabulous Celebrity Xpedition.

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