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Homeward Bound

Well, this is the boring and depressing part of the holiday.  We got up at 7.00am and found ourselves right back where we started, in Abu Dhabi.  Out on the balcony we watched the red sun climbing in the sky, heralding the new day.

We collected our bags, had a last look around cabin 6098 to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, then made our way to the crowded Ocean View buffet where we enjoyed a good breakfast.  Then we went out to the pool deck in the sunshine, to await the call for disembarkation.

Down the gangplank we went, then made our way to the rows of waiting coaches.  Then it was another 90 minutes back to the airport at Dubai, where we left the coach and seemed to have to walk for miles until we found the Emirates desk in this massive airport.  As ever, it was the inevitable zig-zagging queue, but eventually we were able to check in for our A380 Airbus flight EK19, where we asked for an aisle seat.

Once we’d rid ourselves of our bags, it was a case of going through security then along to the executive lounge, where we enjoyed some snacks and drinks and made the most of the free wi-fi.  We then noticed on the departures board that our flight was ready for boarding, so off we went to the gate, where we were able to join the quick-moving queue and board straight away.

On the aircraft, a pleasant surprise awaited us.  We had been given the seats next to the emergency exit, so it meant there were no seats at all in front of us and loads of room instead.  Instead of the tray table and AVOD screen that you usually find in the back of the seat in front of you, our tray table came out of our arm rest, and the screen swivelled up from the gap between the seats.  It was great!  🙂

We were also right next to the galley, so we wouldn’t have far to go if we wanted anything to drink.  Also, if we needed to go to the loo or just get up to stretch our legs, we could just do so; there was no squeezing past the person next to us.

The giant aircraft took to the skies on time, and shortly afterwards the stewardesses came round with some pre-dinner drinks.  I then looked through the selection of available films and other entertainment, and decided to watch Victoria & Abdul, starring the inimitable Dame Judi Dench.  It was excellent, and I enjoyed a delicious meal of lamb stew and vegetables washed down with white wine.

Afterwards I watched another film; this time an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Crooked House.  That too was very good and it whiled away the hours on the long-haul flight.

The time passed in its usual way during what was a fairly smooth flight, as we watched the aircraft’s progress on the Sky Map.  We were served another meal, this time English “afternoon tea” consisting of finger sandwiches and warm scones with jam and Rodda’s clotted cream.  I washed it down with another glass of wine.  🙂

Finally we saw that flight EK19 was crossing the North Sea so we knew we weren’t far from home.  We touched down in Manchester Airport around 18:50 hours, where we were advised that the outside temperature was a chilly 3ºC.  Then it was just the usual rigmarole; disembark the aircraft, go through security, collect our cases, then wait for the shuttle bus to take us to the long-term car park.

Then it was back in the car and on the road for home.  We arrived back in our house at 22:50 hours, whereupon I went straight to bed.  Another superb holiday, marred only slightly by my cold/cough, was over.

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Got up this morning feeling quite sad that this was our last day on board the good ship Constellation and we would be flying home tomorrow.  😦

We went and had our breakfasts in the Ocean View buffet, then wandered out on deck.  We had a couple of hours to spare because we weren’t due to dock in Dubai until 11.00am where we would remain in port until 11.00pm – a good 12 hours to explore this amazing city.

We spent some time packing stuff into the cases that we wouldn’t need again this cruise.  Then we had to go along to present our passports and cruise cards to the UAE immigration inspectors.  We then sat out in the sunshine and watched as the pilot boat came alongside the Constellation and the pilot climbed up the ladder to board our ship.  We got the same lift as him to the topmost deck.  🙂

As the Constellation slowly manoeuvred herself into port, we immediately spotted the distinctive red funnel of what is probably the world’s most famous ocean liner, the Queen Elizabeth 2.  She has been in retirement in Dubai since October 2008, and we wondered what condition she would be in.  Originally they were going to turn her into a floating hotel, but the project ran out of money and the QE2 has had to go through the indignity of just sitting there like a ghost ship, slowly rusting.

We were privileged enough to have had a couple of transatlantic voyages on this great liner, once in 1997 and once in 2000.  It was really quite poignant to see her just sitting there, although we were pleased to see that she didn’t look too bad, and indeed we spotted a number of men on the decks, seemingly working on the ship.  So maybe they have some plans for the good old QE2 after all – let’s hope so.

Although the Queen Elizabeth 2 is a proper ocean liner (rather than a cruise ship) and is 70,000 GRT in size, she looked quite small next to the modern ships, including our own 91,000 GRT Constellation.  The difference, however, is that her lines and clean, sleek and classic, rather than looking like an ugly floating apartment block.  We couldn’t take our eyes of this great old ship, and we noticed lots of other people taking photos of her as well, particularly as the distinctive Dubai skyline, including the Burj Khalifa, formed the unmistakable backdrop.

Meanwhile, the Constellation had berthed by now so we made our way to the Celebrity Theatre to await the call for our city tour.

We were allocated bus #13 and we disembarked the Constellation and made our way through the passenger terminal to the buses waiting outside.  I can’t remember the name of our guide, but he did have a very annoying way of speaking, punctuating every other word with yeah… yeah… yeah.  In the end we weren’t listening to what he was saying but rather how many times he kept saying “yeah”.  In any case, we were engrossed in looking out of the window at all the amazing buildings and other sights.

As we were leaving the dock area we passed by the QE2 and got some good photographs of her.  Then we made our way through the slow-moving Saturday morning traffic for our first destination, the famous Dubai Mall, which is the largest mall in the world by total area. It is part of the 20-billion-dollar Downtown complex, and includes 1,200 shops. It attracts over 54 million visitors each year.

Inside the mall, our guide showed us where we would be meeting after we’d had our free time, as he issued us with tickets to go to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.  We were next to a roped-off selection of luxury cars; we spotted a Lamborghini,  McLaren F1, Maserati, Ferrari and others.  Trevor said there would have been well over a million pounds worth of cars there.  After all, Dubai just reeks of money and luxury so even out on the roads every other car was a luxury one.

The guide showed us where to go to get the lifts to the top of the Burj Khalifa, and told us we had about an hour and a half.  We joined the inevitable zig-zagging queue and, when we got to the head of the queue, presented our tickets.  However, the time shown on the tickets for our visit was 23:00 hours which was obviously incorrect.  The lady then took our tickets away and said we’d have to be issued with new ones, so we had to stand back in the queue to let other people past us.  We hoped it wouldn’t take too long, as this waiting was eating into our time.

After about five minutes the lady returned with new tickets for us and we thankfully made our way to the high-speed lifts to go to the 125th floor.  The Burj Khalifa actually has 148 floors but the viewing area, shop, restaurants etc are on the 125th floor.  The massive lifts sped their way up, and the ascent made my ears pop.

At the top, we all spilled out of the lift then looked around in awe at the incredible views.  The tops of other sky-scraper buildings were way below us, and we could see for miles and miles as it was a clear day.  Cars and trucks, far below us, looked like lines of ants as they crawled along the highway.  It was fantastic – here we were at the top of the tallest building in the world.  🙂

After we’d seen all we wanted, and bought some postcards and other souvenirs in the shop, we made our way back down again and along to where the luxury cars were, to meet up with our guide and the rest of our party.  We then continued back through the mall and back onto the bus for the scenic coastal tour.

We passed many luxury apartment blocks and hotels as we made our way through this bustling, affluent city.  Eventually the bus pulled up along the coast, at the famous Jumeirah Beach, which is a popular place where ex-pats live.  We could see another famous Dubai landmark, the Burj Al Arab hotel, which is shaped like the sail of a boat and has a helicopter landing pad at the top.  We got out of the bus for a photo stop, and walked along the shoreline in the pleasant sunshine.

Continuing on our way, we also passed another famous luxury hotel, Atlantis, The Palm.  This was opened in 2008 at a cost of 500 million USD. It was set in lush, immaculate lawns and flower beds, and had a pristine sandy beach, which I believe was part of the artificial beaches created in The Palms at the turn of the millennium.

We arrived back at the Constellation around 5.00pm, after a very interesting tour indeed.  We made our way to the stern to the Sunset Bar, and I enjoyed a cold prosecco as we looked across at the QE2 as the sun hung low in the sky.  Then it was back to cabin 6098, to get showered and changed and ready for dinner, and put more of our stuff in the cases.

We enjoyed a good dinner in the San Marco restaurant, washed down with prosecco and finished off with a glass of Amaretto and some coffee.  Then we went back to the cabin to finish our packing, and also to get changed into the clothes we’d be travelling home in, as our cases had to be outside our doors by 10.00pm.

Afterwards, we went along to the Celebrity Theatre to see the final show, called “Funny Bones”.  It consisted of two guys, one British and one Japanese, who performed old-fashioned mime sketches that were really funny and original.  Certainly a show with a difference and, as I’ve already said, we have been extremely impressed with the entertainment on the Constellation this cruise.

Around 11.00pm the ship weighed anchor and set sail for Abu Dhabi once again.  We then finished off the evening by going to the Rendez-Vous lounge, where we enjoyed some cocktails as well as the peace and quiet, as there was no band on tonight.  We then reluctantly made our way back to cabin 6098 for our last night on board.

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Go West

Got up around 8.00am and went to the Ocean View for our breakfast, choosing a table by the window so we could look out upon the Arabian Sea as we headed to Dubai.  It was quite disconcerting sitting where we were, because there were large, reinforced glass circular windows in the floor which, when you looked down, appeared to offer a sheer drop over the sea!  When walking along the promenade deck you can look up and see these floor windows into the restaurant; it wasn’t anything we’d ever seen on other ships.

After breakfast we decided to have a walk around the deck and look for flying fish.  It was pleasant up on deck, if a little breezy due to the ship moving along.  One thing to be thankful for – we haven’t seen a drop of rain since leaving home.  😊

At 10 o’clock we went along to the theatre where there was a slideshow presentation by Dr. Ann Burgess called “Curiosities of Nature”.  A lot of the photos featured extreme close-ups of insects and other creatures, it was absolutely fascinating to see.

Afterwards we went for a cup of coffee, then back into the theatre for another presentation by the naturalist Don Enright; this one was all about the elephants of Asia.  We always enjoy attending talks and presentations when we’re on cruises; they usually last around 45 minutes so they’re not too long, as it often seems a shame to be in a darkened theatre watching a slideshow when the weather is so fine outside.  However, we always learn something new so it’s never a bad thing.  😊

After the presentation, we decided it was “beer time” so we headed up to the Sunset Bar at the stern of the ship, perched on a couple of bar stools, and enjoyed some freezing cold beers as a prelude to lunch.  I wasn’t very hungry, so I didn’t really want anything, preferring to wait until dinner time.  I did, however, indulge in a delicious pecan ice-cream cone from the ever-present free ice-cream parlour, which was certainly popular with the kids on board.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing on board, sitting by the pool and passing the time of day with our fellow passengers, whilst enjoying the live music by the band “Just in Time” at the pool deck.

We decided we’d go to the San Marco main restaurant for our dinner that night, and we shared our table with three other couples; one of whom was also from County Durham (Newton Aycliffe).  There was also another British couple who were first-time cruisers, and a couple from Canada.  Trevor and I, with 45 cruises under our belts, were by far and away the most experienced cruisers; in fact it did seem as if the general demographic on this ship was younger than average.  A lot of the talk around the table was centred around cruises and other holidays we’d enjoyed.

After dinner it was time to make our way to the Celebrity Theatre to see the “Rat Pack Dolls”. This was a novel show as it consisted of the famous swing music of the “Rat Pack” (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior) but the songs were performed by three ladies instead.  We enjoyed the show a lot.

Afterwards, we went along to the Rendez-Vous lounge again and sat with Dave and Alison, enjoying a few more cocktails until it was time to call it a night.  We had one more sea day to look forward to tomorrow.

Friday, 12th January 2018

Couldn’t believe it was nearly the end of our holiday already – how the time had flown.  We got up around eight o’clock as usual; in fact, I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for a week now as the coughing kept waking me up and I couldn’t get comfortable.  So it was almost a relief to have to get up in the morning.

Went out onto our balcony; as ever, it was a very calm sea and the weather was pleasantly warm without being too hot.

I didn’t go to breakfast but Trevor brought me back a cup of coffee and a muffin which I enjoyed in our cabin.  Then we spent a while just pottering around, sitting on the balcony, doing some of this blog and reading my Kindle, until 10 o’clock when we went along to the theatre to listen to a talk by Captain Vittorio Cantu called “The Secret of Ship’s Navigation”. It was a very interesting and enlightening talk about modern-day seafaring navigation, all of which is done by computer (for which they have backup systems, and further systems to provide backups to the backups!).  Gone are the days of sextants and steering by the sun and stars; everything is done by GPS.  The captain was able to keep us all interested using lay person’s terms, and it was a good presentation.

As the sunny weather beckoned, we went up on deck for a walk around then took our ‘usual’ places on our bar stools at the Sunset Bar.  We didn’t really do an awful lot today apart from just enjoying being on this lovely ship at sea in the sunshine, instead of the cold and dark of northern Britain.  😊

And so the time just passed in its pleasant way and soon it was time to go to dinner.  Sometimes it can seem, on a cruise ship, that your entire time is spent eating and drinking!  We just decided to go to the self-service restaurant and I enjoyed a selection of fresh salad vegetables and cold cuts of meat, followed by a pretty good apple crumble and custard and washed down with a couple of glasses of rosé wine.  Beyond the large windows we watched the sun dip down below the horizon on the Arabian Sea in a blaze of oranges, pinks and golds.

We were finished in good time, so we made it to the seven o’clock performance in the Celebrity Theatre.  Tonight’s show was performed by the Stars of the Constellation and was called “Celebrate the World”. It was an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza from countries around the world and was a selection of fantastic costumes and brilliant music; excellent entertainment as usual.

After we came out of the theatre, we had a wander around outside on deck so I could get some fresh air, as the air-conditioning was exacerbating my cough and cold symptoms once again.  We then went to the Rendez-Vous and had a couple of drinks, but I really couldn’t be bothered any more, so I went back to our cabin about 10.00pm to read while Trevor went to see the “Liars’ Club” (based on the TV show “Call My Bluff”) in the theatre.

When Trevor returned to our cabin I spent a few minutes sitting out on the balcony in the darkness before we settled down for the evening.  We were due to reach terra firma once again tomorrow morning.

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Got up around eight o’clock this morning, and went out on our balcony where the morning was already warm.  I didn’t fancy going to breakfast so Trevor just brought me back a cup of coffee and a small muffin which I ate in the cabin while getting ready.

Around 9.30am, we disembarked the Constellation and went through the usual immigration process in the cruise terminal before seeking the shuttle bus to take us into town.  The journey only took about five minutes, then it was up to us to explore Mumbai on our own.  What I was particularly looking for was some more of those handbags, and maybe some nice wraps or those floaty sequinned tops; something typically Indian that I would enjoy wearing.  I knew from our holiday in India in 2015 that everything here is dirt cheap.

We had seen yesterday that the roads next to the maidans (where they play cricket) were lined with colourful-looking stalls, so we decided to go there, while looking in shops on the way.  As ever, you had to have eyes in the front, back and sides of your head while crossing the road.  Even when you did reach the pavement you weren’t entirely safe, as the paving slabs or block-paving were uneven and broken, and could easily have caused a broken ankle or, at the least, a nasty fall if you weren’t looking where you were going.

We fought our way through the crowds as we looked in the various shop fronts and at the stalls dotted here and there.  The evocative smells of wood-smoke and incense mixed with the aromas of spices and the ever-present whiff of curry, and occasionally the less-pleasant smells of drains or cow muck.

We tried to avoid the traffic and crowds by taking a short-cut down some side streets, until we reached the start of the maidans cricket grounds.  Inside, there were many games of cricket in progress, where all the players were wearing the proper cricket whites and casual spectators sat on anything available to give them a good vantage point of any game.

Soon we came to the start of the many rows of stalls.  I was a bit disappointed, however, as most of the stuff seemed more Western than Indian; there were many stalls selling jeans, shirts, casual jackets and cotton dresses and tops, but nothing that I couldn’t have bought back home.  Also, the quality of a lot of the clothing was poor; the raw edges were not finished off, hems and zips were sewn in crookedly and lots of loose threads were hanging.  I did, however, find one place selling colourful print cotton skirts in lots of different colours; I ended up buying one in red and yellow, decorated with the inevitable elephants.  It only cost about seven quid so not too bad then.

At another stall I was browsing through the typically-Indian long tunics and the stall owner came over and said “We have very, very big sizes Madam – your size!”.  Cheeky bugger!  Although I suppose Indian ladies do tend to be quite petite compared to your average Westerners. I tried on some of the tops but they were either too small across the bust or they were badly-made, so I decided not to bother.

After we’d finished browsing the stalls (I didn’t find what I was looking for) we decided to make our way back to the main town centre and go for a nice cold beer, as I also needed the toilet by now.  We therefore found a bar selling the inevitable Kingfisher beer and as I went to make use of the restrooms Trevor ordered the beers, which came in big 650ml bottles and were cold and delicious.  We stood out in the bar a mile; not only were we the only couple in a bar full of men occupying single tables, but we were the only white couple and I was the only female.  😊

After our beers we were ready to browse the shops some more, and we made our way through the dilapidated streets, watching where we were putting our feet.  I was amused to see a tortoiseshell cat curled up asleep in the footwell of a motor-scooter, and we also saw skinny stray cats and kittens; it’s always the animals that tug at my heart-strings.

Eventually I was attracted by the brightly-coloured clothing and materials in a shop window, so we went in to have a look.  I bought a couple more of the sequinned, embroidered bags and also a couple of gorgeous wraps, one in shades of purple and lilac with sequins and a beaded fringe, and one in warm shades decorated with flourished letters of the alphabet.  The whole lot cost 1050 rupees, or around 11 quid – a bargain.

Passing a pharmacy, I asked them if they had anything for my cough, which still didn’t seem any better after five days.  They gave me a bottle of “Coughex” tablets, which were little herb-scented tablets that you chewed on; I think they were just some sort of Ayurvedic complementary medicine, so I wasn’t sure if they’d actually work, but they were only 80 rupees so I had nothing to lose.

After our fruitful and interesting morning, we decided to start making our way back to the ship; we reckon we’d probably walked a total of about four miles.  So once again it was the usual battle of crossing the streets until we were back at the shuttle bus pick-up point at the dock gates, where a bus was already waiting.

Five minutes later, we were presenting the (now somewhat dog-eared) copies of our passports and visa at the entrance to the cruise terminal, then again at the security point where our bags were scanned.  Then it was up the gangplank and back onto the Constellation where our bags were scanned yet again; this time it wasn’t for security purposes but more to check that we hadn’t tried to smuggle any booze on board.

We returned to our cabin and dumped our bags before getting washed and making our way up to the pool deck for a nice refreshing cold beer. I wasn’t hungry, but Trevor enjoyed some pizza washed down with his Samuel Adams beer, and we just sat on deck and watched the world go by.

The afternoon passed in its pleasant way and soon I was getting showered and shampooed and ready to go to dinner.  At six o’clock we heard the three blasts of the Constellation’s whistle as we slowly moved away from the dockside and put to sea once more.

We decided we’d go to the self-service buffet in the Ocean View, and we enjoyed a delicious meal, washed down with prosecco, as we watched the lights of India receding into the distance.  We had the next two days at sea to look forward to.

We finished our dinner in good time for the early performance in the Celebrity Theatre, and we made our way to the seats near the front in eager anticipation of this evening’s show. This time it would feature Rob Lewis as Phil Collins (the show that had been postponed from a couple of nights ago).

Rob was really great; he did all of Phil Collins’ famous hits such as Against All Odds, Two Hearts, Another Day in Paradise and his first (and probably best) solo hit, In The Air Tonight.  In this one, a drum kit rose up onto the stage and he sat and played the famous drum break during the song (think of the gorilla in the Cadbury’s TV advert!).  It was an excellent finale to what was a very entertaining show.

Afterwards we had a wander around the ship and had a look around the shops, before adjourning to the dim and cosy comfort of the Rendez-Vous lounge.   We enjoyed a couple of cocktails while listening to the J.Beam Band playing “Roots of Rock and Roll”.

Then, just before 11.00pm, we went back along to the theatre for the late performance which was for adults only.  It was a production by the show company called “Elyria”, and was set in a sort of fantasy, “Lord of the Rings” style setting, with a dialogue full of double-entendres and some fantastic music, singing and dancing.  It was certainly a show with a difference, and we enjoyed it very much.

Afterwards, we returned to cabin 6098 and I sat out on the balcony for a while, enjoying the sounds of the sea and the balmy night air.  Once again the sea was calm and flat; you would never have known you were on a ship.

We settled down for the night and I slept as well as my cough would allow.

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Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay) is India’s finance centre, the economic powerhouse of the nation, heart of the Hindi film industry and the industrial hub of everything from textiles to petrochemicals.  It is the glamour of the Bollywood cinema, cricket on the “maidans” (open grassed areas), outstanding colonial architecture and red double-decker buses.  We were excited to be here in this lively, colourful city.

We stood up on deck and watched the Constellation slowly make her way into her berth, where we were due to remain until tomorrow night.  We watched the bustling dockside activity below, where a crane lifted the gangplank into place and a red carpet and some barriers were erected to lead us into the cruise terminal building.  Our excursion was not until 12.30pm so we had a couple of hours in which to relax and take in our surroundings.

After enjoying a cold beer and a light lunch, we made our way to the Celebrity Theatre to collect our stickers which would allocate our tour bus.  Then it was down to the gangplank and the usual farcical rigmarole regarding our passports and visas; you were checked inside the cruise terminal (where your bags were also scanned), then you were checked at the exit to the cruise terminal once again.  Then, when the bus reached the dock gates we all had to hold up our cruise cards for the security guys to view.  Finally, we were on our way.

Our first impression of Mumbai was that it was a lot more organised, cleaner and seemingly more civilised than the squalor and chaos of Delhi.  We saw the ornate façades of many impressive colonial buildings, shops and offices as well as the usual crowded, frenetic traffic on the roads.  We passed roadside vendors selling anything from street food to handicrafts, and our guide pointed out the dabbawalas, who constitute a lunchbox delivery and return system that delivers hot lunches from homes and restaurants to people who work in Mumbai. The lunchboxes are picked up in the late morning, delivered predominantly using bicycles and railway trains, and returned empty in the afternoon. They are also used by meal suppliers in Mumbai, who pay them to ferry lunchboxes with ready-cooked meals from central kitchens to customers and back.  Our guide told us that there was a Bollywood film made in 2013 called The Lunchbox which is based on the dabbawala service; I will have to make the effort to watch it.

Presently our bus pulled up and we all got off, as most of our heritage tour of Mumbai would take place on foot.  We were no sooner on the pavement when a gaggle of beggars and children started tugging on our sleeves, saying “dollar, dollar” and miming putting food in their mouths.  They were pretty persistent, and vied with the “looky-looky” men and women trying to sell you anything from embroidered handbags, wraps, wooden mobiles, colourful beaded jewellery and the usual tourist tat such as postcards and fridge magnets.

Trying to cross the street was taking your life in your hands.  Not all the traffic stopped at red lights or pedestrian crossings, and at one stage we saw two lanes of cars crammed into one lane, zig-zagging around each other.  Pedestrians would inch their way out into the roads, and dodge in and out of the cars, buses and lorries; it really was nerve wracking.

After a short walk, where we were followed by the ubiquitous street vendors, we entered the grounds of the Cathedral of the Holy Name, one of the few Catholic cathedrals in Mumbai.  While 80% of India’s religious is Hindu, there is also a substantial population of Christian, Muslim and Sikh followers, as well as other religions.

Inside the cathedral it was blessedly quiet and cool, compared to the noise and heat and dust outside.  We had a look around at the beautiful stained glass windows and distinctive altar, then we had a few minutes spare so I went out to one of the street vendors, who was selling colourful embroidered and sequinned handbags, and I asked how much.  “Five dollars” was the reply.  I told him I’d take four of the bags for 10 dollars – they’d made nice little presents.  At first he wasn’t going to agree, but when I started to walk away he gave in.  😊

When everyone was ready, our guide led us once again into the frenetic streets and we spotted some cows at the side of the road, as well as one street where people had cooked big pots of curry and rice at home, then brought them out to sell to passers-by on the street; several were standing around eating their meals from paper plates with plastic knives and forks.  Apparently cooking meals then selling them on the streets was a good way to make extra cash (there obviously is no need for such trivia as Food Hygiene Certificates and such like).

As we precariously followed our guide across the road, the discordant cacophony of vehicle horns clashed with some loud, sitar-based Indian music and we wondered where it was coming from.  A man had a motorbike to which was attached what can only be described as similar to a gypsy caravan; it was ornately designed and contained four large speakers at the top, from which the music blared forth.  At the front of the strange vehicle a couple of ragged children sat, and at the rear a woman carried a crying baby to add to the racket.  It was certainly an eye-opener!

We passed the decrepit shell of what must have once been a distinctive, impressive building and our guide told us it was the Watson’s Hotel.  Watson’s Hotel, now known as the Esplanade Mansion, is India’s oldest surviving cast-iron building, and is located in the Kala Ghoda area of Mumbai. Named after its original owner, John Watson, the building was fabricated in England and constructed on site between 1860 and 1863.

The hotel was leased on 26 August 1867 for the terms of 999 years at yearly rent of Rupees 92 and 12 annas to Abdul Haq. It was closed in the 1960s and was later subdivided and partitioned into smaller cubicles that were let out on rent as homes and offices. Neglect of the building has resulted in decay and, despite its listing as a Grade II–A heritage structure, the building is now in a dilapidated state.  We could see the ornate “W” (for Watson) in what remained of the rusting balconies.

Playing tag with the traffic once again, we eventually reach the large square that leads onto the Gateway of India.  This monument was erected to commemorate the landing of King George V and Queen Mary at Apollo Bunder on their visit to India in 1911.

Built in Indo-Saracenic style, the foundation stone for the Gateway of India was laid on 31 March 1911. The structure is an arch made of basalt, 26 metres (85 feet) high. The final design of George Wittet was sanctioned in 1914 and the construction of the monument was completed in 1924. The Gateway was later used as a symbolic ceremonial entrance to India for Viceroys and the new Governors of Bombay.  It served to allow entry and access to India.

While we were looking around, we were constantly accosted by guys wanting to take our photographs; I felt like just holding up a sign saying “No, thank you!”.  We decided to have a well-earned rest on a nearby marble topped wall, and we found a shaded area that allowed us to people watch; I particularly like the ladies in their colourful saris and Indian tunics.  What a colourful country India is; there is certainly nowhere else like it.

We continued our interesting walk but this time we were finishing our excursion for today with a trip to a restaurant for afternoon tea (and a long-awaited loo stop).

Inside the restaurant, I made a bee-line for the ladies’ WC which already had a fair queue outside.  The reason became clear when it was evident that there was actually only one toilet. In front of me in the queue were a couple of ladies in full Muslim robes; each one took quite a while in the cubicle, as I would imagine it would be a lot harder getting ready for the toilet than just going in and dropping your jeans!  😊

Eventually I was all done, hands thoroughly washed and cleaned with a little bottle of antiseptic hand-gel I always carry when travelling.  Then it was time to go and get my tea.

I enjoyed a couple of finger sandwiches, some shortbread and a couple of delicious macaroons, accompanied by a very good cup of tea.  After all, if you can’t get a good cup of tea in India, where can you get it?

Once we were all done, we waited outside on the pavement for the bus to return.  There was a young woman, with a half-naked toddler, begging outside.  I was amazed by how flexible her facial muscles must have been; she had the most haggard, forlorn, droop-mouthed and downturned eyes imaginable as she put on her “sad” face and held out her hands to passers-by.  One of our party gave the girl a five dollar note and instantly her face was transformed; she seemed to lose 20 years in age as her eyes lit up and she dazzled us with a wide smile, showing very white teeth.  Then, in a flash, the forlorn look was back in place to take in the next tourist.  Her toddler, who had been gurgling away happily, suddenly started crying, and I have heard that the mothers sometimes pinch their babies to make them cry, as they are more likely to receive money that way.

Eventually our bus pulled up, and we only had about 15 minutes until we arrived back at the Constellation, around 5.10pm.

We didn’t go back to our cabin, but instead went straight to the Celebrity Theatre where some locals were putting on a Bollywood-style singing and dancing show for us. As expected, there were lots of beautiful costumes worn by attractive nubile young girls and handsome young men.  The music and dancing were infectious and it was certainly something different and reminded us without any doubt that we were in India.

After the show we hotfooted it back to our cabin and got a quick wash and change before going along to the Sunset Bar at the stern of the ship to enjoy a cold beer or cocktail.  We weren’t too hungry because of the afternoon tea, so we decided we’d just go to the Oceanview self-service buffet later on for a light meal.

The main entertainment in the theatre tonight came in the shape of comedian Anthony Scott, who had previously entertained the troops in Afghanistan.  It was a very good show with laughs aplenty, and it seemed to appeal to the Americans on board as well as the many Brits.  It was unfortunate that he played to a half-empty theatre, but as the Constellation is staying in port overnight, I expect many people were still ashore.

Afterwards we were quite tired after our very interesting, very full day, so we just finished off the evening in the cosy, dimly-lit Rendez-Vous lounge, where we enjoyed a couple of cocktails before bed.

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Woke up around 7.30am to the sound of singing and music playing loudly, so even if we’d wanted a lie-in there was no chance of that! 😊  We went out onto the balcony and saw that we were moored up in Mormugao, and there was a large makeshift gateway/archway proclaiming “Goa Welcomes You” and a few colourfully-dressed locals singing and dancing, as well as some guys playing the trumpet and banging on drums.  Looking to our left, we could see the tour buses lined up at the end of the port, just beyond the bows of the Constellation.

Trevor went up to breakfast, but I just enjoyed a cup of coffee and some water in our cabin, while getting ready for our excursion, which would take us on an interesting scenic ride through the streets and countryside of Goa with the ultimate destination being the United Breweries, where the world-famous Indian beer Kingfisher is brewed.

We made our way to the Celebrity Lounge to register for our tour, and we didn’t have very long to wait until our bus number was called. We then made our way down the gangplank where we had to present ourselves at the first checkpoint, where the official examined our visas and the colour photocopies of our passports.  Then we walked a few yards further along to the gate where another bloke in uniform examined our visas.  Finally, we were able to board our bus, which was a narrow vehicle with a small doorway and steep steps; the windows were curtained against the sun and everyone had to open the curtains in order to be able to see.  There were no seat belts.

We had to wait a few minutes for everyone to board the bus, due, I imagine, to the wait in line to have the visas checked.  Eventually we were all present and correct (there were only 13 of us, plus our guide), and off we went.

Trevor and I were instantly reminded of our eye-opener of a trip to India in 2015.  The scene beyond the window was one of chaos; buses, trucks, cyclists and cars all vying for their place on the dusty road, in which no traffic rules seemed to be in force.  Vehicles regularly jumped red lights and we saw lots of motorbikes and scooters, whose riders wore no helmets, and we often saw children and sari-wearing ladies riding side-saddle on the pillion.  Over it all was the incessant blare of car horns.

The buildings were a sight to see as well.  Well-maintained split-level apartments with balconies and downstairs garages sat cheek by jowl with ramshackle wooden shanty-built huts with corrugated tin roofs, all of which nestled amongst palm and banana trees.  The evocative aromas of spices and wood smoke mixed with the smell of cow dung and stagnant water – it was all certainly a country of amazing contrasts.

We saw passed through one of two small villages and towns, our heads constantly swivelling from left to right, as if watching a tennis match, as we strove to take in all the scenes beyond the bus windows.  Sometimes we passed fields of sugarcane or the flooded rice fields, with here and there a lone farm-worker toiling.

Eventually we pulled up outside the gates of the United Breweries, and we all alighted from the bus into the bright sunshine. We had to watch a safety presentation (which our guide had to keep pausing and translating, as it was all in the local language) as well as sign a waiver form.  Then we followed the guide inside the brewing house, where the brewery chemist explained to us the different brewing processes starting from the grain and hops, to the fermentation process and the bottling and canning.

We went up some stairs where there were numerous cardboard packing boxes ready to hold the cans and bottles of Kingfisher.  There was a sort of walkway and gallery where we could look down at the canning plant; the cans would come along on the conveyor belt, seemingly haphazardly, but in some places the conveyor was only one can wide, and at this point the cans would neatly line themselves up before continuing their route; it was mesmerising to watch.

After about a 45-minute tour of the brewery we arrived at the place we’d all been waiting for; the tasting room. 😊  Inside, we all took a seat and a bloke came in with a huge glass flagon in which some fresh Kingfisher, straight from the barrel, awaited us.  He said it would be the freshest beer we’d ever tried, and he therefore hoped, as a result, it wouldn’t spoil it for us in future.

To accompany the beer, a long table contained a selection of Indian snacks, such as pakora, onion bhaji, cashew nuts, spiced cauliflower and cheese sandwiches for those who “didn’t like” Indian food.

We had about an hour in the tasting room, during which time I enjoyed three glasses of Kingfisher and Trevor had four.  Then it was time to go back outside and wait for our bus, for the return journey to the Constellation.

While we were waiting for the bus we watched, agog, as a group of cows and a humped buffalo made their placid way along the other side of the road. Stray cows, pigs, buffalo and goats are a common sight in India, and I took a photograph of a helmet-less guy on a motorbike with the cows ambling along in the background.

The journey back to the port was just as interesting as the outward trip, and we arrived back around 2.00pm.  We had to go through the same rigmarole with immigration as we had when leaving the ship; first of all, we had to show our shipboard passes and visas to a guy at the dock gate, then we had to show them again at the entrance to the cruise terminal, then once again at security, when any bags had to go through the x-ray scanning machine.

Finally we got through, and I was able to get a good bow shot photo of the Constellation for my web site.  We then went back on board the ship and had a potter around as well as enjoying a couple more drinks.  I couldn’t decide whether my cold/cough was getting better or not; sometimes I’d feel fine and other times my throat would start hurting or I’d lose my voice – I think a lot of it was down to the air-conditioning around the ship; dry, recycled artificial air instead of the fresh sea air.  Also, the air-conditioning makes the ship far too cold; in the show-lounge especially a wrap or jacket is an absolute necessity.

We just had dinner in the Ocean View self-service place, sitting by the large floor-to-ceiling windows where we were able to watch the Constellation putting to sea once more around 6.30pm, next stop Mumbai.

We were out of the restaurant in good time to make it to the Celebrity Lounge for the seven o’clock performance.  Tonight it was featuring a Phil Collins tribute act; the guy was called Rob Lewis and was the winner of the Stars In Their Eyes TV show in 2005, so we were looking forward to it.  However, when we took our ‘usual’ seats in the theatre an announcement came over the PA system to say that the Phil Collins show had been postponed (as the guy’s flight into Goa had been delayed and he hadn’t arrived yet) and, instead, a female singer by the name of Jane Curry would be performing instead.

I decided not to stay to see the show; not only was it bl**dy cold in the theatre but I didn’t really feel like sitting through the performance.  So instead I went back to the cabin to wait for Trevor, where I read my Kindle and sat out on the balcony for a while; it was warmer out there than inside the vessel.

Once Trevor returned, we had a wander around the ship and a look in the shops, where I bought a white t-shirt with “Celebrity Constellation” written on the front.  The girl on the till gave each of us a card and said we could have a go on the reflex-testing machine; it’s the one where several buttons light up and you have to press the buttons quickly; apparently you needed a score of at least 30 to be able to put your name into the draw.

We went along to the ‘TAG Heuer Batak Challenge’ (as it was called) and Trevor scored 30 while I scored 31, so we each filled in our cards with name and stateroom number, and put them into the draw.  The guy in the TAG Heuer shop said the draw would be made at 10.15pm and you had to be present to be able to claim your prize.  This we did, and the draw had to be made three times before someone claimed the winning ticket.  What an anti-climax; all they won was a baseball hat.  Whoo-pee-doo!  What a rubbish prize, after such a big build-up.  Now I wasn’t disappointed that we hadn’t won.

We then went back to cabin 6098 and settled down for the night.  We were not due to arrive in Mumbai until 10.30am tomorrow, so we could enjoy a lie-in if we wanted.  😊

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Going to Goa

Got up at 8.00am feeling a lot better, while still not 100%.  I was determined to make the most of it, however, and we went up to the Ocean View self-service cafeteria and I enjoyed a full English breakfast consisting of bacon, sausage, black pudding, mushrooms and beans, all washed down with a large glass of fresh orange juice and a coffee.

Then we had a walk around outside and we were amused to see that some people had staked their claim for the sunbeds around the deck; I supposed you’d have to really, as you’d have very little chance of getting one at lunchtime.

I was surprised to feel that there was quite a brisk breeze blowing which made the weather seem cooler than it was, particularly as at 17˚N we were well into tropical latitudes; it was quite a bit cooler than what we’re used to in the Caribbean.

At 10 o’clock Trevor went along to the Celebrity Lounge to listen to a talk about Mars (the planet, not the chocolate bar) while I decided to catch up on this blog.  Then we spent some time sitting out on our balcony in the glorious sunshine, where we spotted one or two flying fish.

Around noon we made our way to the Sunset Bar where we enjoyed our first cold beers of the day; they went down a treat, cold and foamy and refreshing.  Then I finished off with a prosecco while Trevor had a cheese and ham panini for lunch.  I skipped lunch as I’d had a decent breakfast, but we went along to the ice-cream parlour and each enjoyed a cone with caramel flavoured ice-cream, before making our way to the theatre to listen to a talk called “Feathered Jewels” about the birds we were likely to see in India.

The presentation was very interesting, accompanied by lots of slides of colourful birds.  The speaker, naturalist Don Enright, explained that no-one needs to be an expert of birds or even know what they are called; you just have to observe and enjoy them.

Afterwards we went back to the cabin and enjoyed a power-nap, before I got up and got showered and washed and blow-dried my hair.  Then we just relaxed on the balcony and watched the world go by as the Constellation glided through the calm waters.  We passed many other ships, most of them cargo vessels or tankers, as the Arabian Sea must be a major shipping lane, particularly in and out of Goa and Mumbai, where we were heading.

For dinner that evening we went to the San Marco Restaurant where we were joined by two other couples; one from Philadelphia and the other from Cambridge.  Over dinner, the talk was very interesting and lively, particularly concerning politics and the Donald Trump administration.  We were in the restaurant just over two hours and the meal was delicious, if the service was a little slow once again.

After dinner we managed to make it to the theatre in time for tonight’s performance by the Stars of the Constellation show company.  It was described as “a modern-day musical twist on classic fairy tale stories such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz”.  It was an excellent and original show with fantastic colourful costumes, talented singing, dancing and acrobatics, and lively music.  We have certainly been impressed with the entertainment on the Constellation so far.  😊

After the show we adjourned to the Rendez-Vous lounge where we joined Dave and Alison, and swapped stories and anecdotes and regaled each other with what we’d been doing today. We were interested to hear about their daughter’s career as a successful model, and Dave showed me copies of newspaper clippings which showed that their daughter had even dated Prince Harry a couple of times.  Wow!

The hours winged by and, after Dave and Alison had gone (they explained to us that they don’t tend to go to bed too late) Trevor and I had another drink each and then returned to cabin 6098 to settle down for the night.  Tomorrow we were due to dock in Mormugao, India, which would be our gateway to Goa.  We looked forward to what the day would bring.

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