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Beautiful Beau Vallon

This morning, when we got up and went out onto our balcony, we discovered we were docked in Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles, situated on the island of Mahé.  Today we were booked onto a half-day tour to explore this area and also spend time at the beach.

It was hard to believe we were halfway through our fabulous voyage already.  Some of the people we’d been speaking to, including our quiz team-mate Joe, were spending seven weeks on the Boudicca, staying with her all the way back to Dover and taking in India, the UAE and the Suez Canal on the way home.  Trevor and I would love to do a 21- or 28-day cruise, once we’re retired.

But today here we were in another new port and we looked forward to exploring.  We went up on deck after breakfast to take in our surroundings, as our trip wasn’t scheduled to depart until 9.30am.  While we were up there, we watched a fishing boat arrive quayside with a huge load of fish in a net; this was attached to a crane and lifted ashore into the back of a truck, and sent down a chute into a large refrigerated container.  Then the fishing boat left and another boat with another load of fish arrived in its place, for the process to begin again.  The fish looked quite large, and we later found out they were tuna.

It was then time for us to go down to the Neptune Lounge and wait for the call to disembark the Boudicca, which didn’t take long.  We then boarded a small bus which took us through the bustling streets of Victoria, where there was lots to see.  At one point we got off the bus and followed our guide through the narrow thoroughfare, passing the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clark Market, a large fish and fresh produce market, where we saw more boxes of the fresh tuna.  It transpires that there is a large tuna canning factory, Indian Ocean Tuna Ltd. which produces 1.5 million cans of tuna a day.  Amazing!

We also passed an ornate Hindu temple and well as a Catholic church; the Seychelles has a multi-cultural population.  The church was lovely and cool inside and had some fantastic stained-glass windows, as well as a life-size tableau featuring the Nativity.

Back outside we strolled through the colourful streets, looking in shop windows and just people-watching.  We then reboarded our bus and headed out of the town towards what the Seychelles is famous for – the beach.

As the traffic and the buildings thinned out, the scenery became more lush, with gorgeous trees bearing colourful flowers and palm trees, interspersed here and there with little shops and boutiques.  After about 15 minutes or so we pulled up at the front of a hotel and resort, the Berjaya, in Beau Vallon.  We had an hour and a half to make use of the hotel’s pool, bar and beach facilities, and first of all we were given a complimentary soft drink which we enjoyed sitting at a table looking towards the beach.

I really wished I had brought my cossie today as the beach was absolutely stunning.  There was a wide expanse of white, powder-soft sand and coconut palms fringing the crystal-clear water.  Some people were para-gliding, the speed boats hoisting the colourful canopies into the sky, others were swimming and sunbathing.

We rolled up our trouser legs to above the knees, kicked off our shoes and walked along the shoreline, allowing the gorgeous warm water to lap around our ankles and lower legs.  I took loads of photos and short video footage and just delighted being in such a picture-perfect location.  Then, as the morning edged towards mid-day and the sun reached its zenith, we decided to seek refuge in the shade, so we went into the hotel foyer to make the most of their free wi-fi and to post the cards I’d written out yesterday.

We then reluctantly made our way back to our waiting coach, for the journey back to the Boudicca, where we arrived in nice time for lunch at one o’clock.  The pool looked very inviting, so I donned by tankini, coated myself liberally in factor-20 suntan lotion, and took to the pleasantly-warm waters, while Trevor went to the stern to continue watching the tuna boats being unloaded; they’d been busy all day.

I did a few lengths in the pool and, when I got out, I had to run to get my flip-flops back on as the wooden decking was roasting hot underfoot.  I then joined Trevor and watched one of the full tuna containers being hitched to the tractor unit of a waiting lorry, ready to be taken to the factory.  A new container was then craned back into place again, while yet another boat full of tuna arrived.

We then decided to return to our stateroom (suite!!) where I got showered and washed my hair before getting dried off and into clean clothes.  I put my cossie and the wet towel out onto the balcony to dry; it didn’t take long in the 30+ degree heat.

We then enjoyed an afternoon power nap and sat out on our balcony for a while, reading and relaxing.  The Boudicca was due to set sail at 16:30 hours, so we went up on deck to enjoy the sailaway party, with live music from the Boudicca Orchestra and Ricardo.  Everyone was dancing around on the deck and enjoying cold cocktails and refreshing, foamy beer.  I had a deliciously fruity sangria, and had a bit of a bop about.  Everyone was smiley and happy and euphoric; the bright sunshine, sparkling ocean and the tantalising sea breeze just had the effect of making us so glad to be alive, and we took in huge lungfuls of the fresh sea air and felt full of contentment.  It’s very hard to describe the feeling, but all I can say is if I was a little dog I would have been leaping about, my tail wagging frenetically.  😊

After an hour or so, we returned to stateroom 7038 in time for the soft knock on the door which heralded the arrival of our canapés.  My nicely blow-dried hair was all over the place with the breeze and the humidity, but so what – tonight’s dress code was smart-casual and no-one’s hair was immaculate anyway, we were all in the same boat, so to speak.  😊

The Boudicca was well underway by the time we went down to dinner at 6.15pm, in fact we had three full days at sea to look forward to now, en route to the Maldives.

Dinner was the usual grand affair; good food, good wine and good company.  Then we spent the evening in the usual way – along to the Neptune Lounge for the dancing and the evening’s entertainment.  Tonight, it was the magician Rick Green again; this time he was doing close-up magic, where we could see his hands manipulating the cards via a camera projected onto a large screen.  He really was very good and put on a great performance.

Then along we went to the Lido Lounge for the quiz.  There was no sign of Joe tonight, but we were joined by another very pleasant couple who introduced themselves as Gary and Angela.  We didn’t win the quiz (again!) but our score was an improvement on what it had been recently, so things were looking up.  😊

We enjoyed a few cocktails in the Lido Lounge, while listening to Colin James, the resident pianist, and watching the dancers.  It was hot and sultry in the lounge because the huge glass doors, the width of the room, were open and the tropical warmth infiltrated the room, so I didn’t have the energy to get up and join the dancers.

We then took the last drink along to our stateroom (suite!!) and sat out for a while, winding down, before settling down for the evening, in happy anticipation of whatever tomorrow had in store.  😊

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The Living Seychelles

We had to be up at 07:15 hours this morning as we were due to go on tour at half past eight.  We enjoyed a good breakfast then gathered together suntan cream, mozzie repellent, hand gel and local currency ready to disembark the ship for today’s tour, which was called “The Living Seychelles”, hence the title of today’s blog entry.  😊

After getting the liberty boat across the bay once again, we boarded the small local bus and it was only a short journey of about 20 minutes, through dense, lush vegetation and small houses and shops, until we arrived at the Praslin Museum.  It was a bit of a misnomer, however, because it turned out to be a living museum rather than a building full of dusty old relics, and our guide (and the museum owner) was a large, ebullient man called Mr Steve Esther.

Mr Esther had bought a plot of land in 1995 and had built a seven-bedroomed guesthouse, complete with dance/entertainment area, as well as planting and cultivating lots of the plants and trees native to the Seychelles.  His family, including his cute little 10-year old daughter, helped him run the place.

After welcoming us to the Praslin Museum, we were each given a refreshing glass of tropical juice, along with some samples of fresh coconut and breadfruit crisps, and some dried banana slices.  We then began our tour.

The first thing we saw was a wire enclosure containing three large fruit bats. Unlike most bats, however, during daylight, these ones weren’t asleep but were climbing about in their enclosure, their bright black eyes framed by their cute little fox-like faces – in fact, they are known as “flying foxes” and they have a wing-span of about a metre.  The guy told us that the bats were not held captive; they could fly wherever they wanted but they always returned because, to them, it was like a “bat 5-star hotel” where they were well-fed and looked after.  He said on one occasion there had even been baby bats.  😊

Next, we were taken to see some giant tortoises.  There were three altogether; two females and one enormous male, who Mr Esther told us was 136 years old.  The tortoise was friendly and people were given fruit to feed to him, where he would take it out of their hand.  Along the way, Mr Esther would point out the various plants to us, tell us what they were, and what they could be used for, i.e. medicinal, healing, making things etc.  As well as many coconut palms there were vanilla, breadfruit, patchouli and citronella.

The coconut palm is an incredibly useful tree; all parts of the plant can be used.  We were shown how to de-husk and open a green coconut to get the refreshing water; the fibrous husk is used to make matting and baskets.  There were also some older coconuts that were starting to sprout and Mr Esther opened one of them; instead of containing water, the white flesh filled the interior of the coconut and, when we tasted it, it was much drier and more ”woolly” than the coconut flesh we’re accustomed to; in fact, it wasn’t really all that nice.

We were then given some copra, or dried coconut, to try; this tasted different but wasn’t unpleasant.  Coconut shell is also used to make a wide variety of things, from bowls to ornaments to carvings and other household items.

Next, we were taken to where a dreadlocked guy in a crocheted hat showed us how to grate the coconut flesh which is mixed with water and squeezed out by hand to make coconut milk, and to extract the oil, which is used for a great many things, in cooking, cosmetics and hair-care. In fact coconut oil is one of the best conditioners you can use for your hair.  The same guy also used the palm leaves to plait and weave into a basket, complete with handle.  Palm leaves are also made into brooms and are dried and used to thatch buildings as well.  An incredibly versatile tree indeed.

After learning all about the coconuts, we were then taken to the main building and offered a cold drink of water or juice, as well as being able to use the loo.  The guest house looked lovely; set in all this lush greenery off the beaten track it looked like the kind of place where you’d come for a week or so to take time out of life.  😊

We were then shown to a building where fresh breadfruit was being grilled, and each given a hot slice of the delicacy; it didn’t have much taste or texture, it was a bit like mashed potato, and we guessed that perhaps it was used as a staple carbohydrate to “pad out” meals.

After Mr Esther explained to us a bit more about the endemic plants and trees, he showed us how to take a root cutting from a tree, by removing a piece of bark from the branch, then tying a freshly-cut twig, in a bit of soil in a plastic bag, onto the larger branch, where the twig will take nourishment from the mother tree and begin to sprout roots.  It can then be planted where it will grow and bear fruit in about three months.  Fascinating stuff.  😊

We finished this really interesting and educational tour by going to the “disco” area (a large open-sided shelter) with some guitars, local instruments, speakers and a microphone in one corner.  Inside, Mr Esther played the guitar and sang for us, then he played some local music on a hand-fashioned instrument which had a wire stretched lengthwise above a hollow tube; when different areas of the wire were struck with a stick, a different note sounded.  He then took up the guitar again and everyone joined in when he sang Take Me Home, Country Roads.  Then we were each given a paper beaker containing home-brewed palm wine, which tasted quite strong!  😊

What an excellent morning it had been so far!  Our little bus then took us back along the sea front where our guide said we could spend an hour at the beach.  We saw a small supermarket-type shop that was selling cold bottles of Seybrew (the local beer) so we bought a chilled bottle each and the proprietor removed the caps for us.  We then brought the beer onto the most gorgeous beach imaginable, where we sat in the shade, our toes in the sand, and looked out at a scene straight out of Paradise.  We then walked along the shoreline but the sun was very hot, so we went back into the shade, then walked through a small grove of coconut palms; several of the trees and dropped their nuts and we avoided walking directly underneath the trees as we didn’t fancy a coconut falling on our heads!

We then returned to the landing stage where we were pleased to see that all the closed shops we’d spotted yesterday were now open.  We therefore went into one which was displaying colourful clothing and other local souvenirs, where we bought some postcards and stamps, and I also bought a very unusual hand-bag hand-made out of squares of coconut shell joined together and lined with an inner satin pouch which closed with a drawstring.  It wasn’t cheap at £40.00, but it is certainly different and a nice reminder of our visit to Praslin.  In fact, we discovered that the Seychelles aren’t a particularly cheap place anyway; they probably up all the prices for the tourists!

We then joined the queue at the landing stage to get the liberty boat back across to the Boudicca, where we arrived back just after one o’clock – in nice time for lunch.  Dumping our stuff in our stateroom (suite!!) we went down to the Poolside Grill, and enjoyed a freezing cold beer and a light lunch, just sitting in the shade by the pool enjoying ourselves. Hey, this is the life!  😊

We spent the afternoon pottering around the ship until it was time to start getting ready for dinner once again.  At six o’clock Captain Sartela’s voice boomed over the tannoy to announce that the Boudicca would shortly be weighing anchor and setting sail for Victoria, the capital of the Seychelles.  As the sun dipped lower in the sky (sunset was at 6.32pm), we made our way to the Tintagel Restaurant and enjoyed the usual scrumptious meal, washed down with copious quantities of rosé wine.  As everyone on table #31 had got to know each other by now, we enjoyed the conversation and the banter, and Trevor and I decided this was turning out to be a fantastic cruise.

After dinner we did the usual – went along to the Neptune Lounge to take part in the dancing (the best we could, anyway!), then order our drinks and sit back to enjoy the show.  Tonight the fabulous Boudicca Orchestra were in the spotlight (instead of ‘just’ being the superb backing for the main show).  They were performing their tribute to all the Big Band greats, such as Glen Miller and Duke Ellington.  Their show was excellent, and judging by the foot tapping we could see going on in the audience, everyone else seemed to enjoy it too.

Afterwards we adjourned to the Lido Lounge, where the resident pianist Colin James was just finishing off before the quiz.  Joe joined us tonight, but we were nowhere near winning again.

After the quiz we hot-footed it back to the Neptune Lounge; most of the best seats were already taken because tonight was featuring the Crew Cabaret.  This was a selection of talented singers from around members of the crew, from the engine room to waiters to cabin stewardesses; all of them received enthusiastic cheers and applause from the audience, and we wondered why some of them didn’t become professional singers rather than their usual day jobs.

We returned to the Lido Lounge afterwards, but we were quite tired after our packed day, so we just got a drink to enjoy on our balcony, and we took it back, put our feet up and enjoyed the sounds of the sea along with Enya’s relaxing music emanating softly from my iPod.

We had another delightful day in the Seychelles to look forward to tomorrow and, with this happy thought, fell asleep more or less instantly.

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New Year, New Country

Got up quite late this morning (9.00am) and, while Trevor went down to breakfast, I preferred to enjoy some coffee and fresh fruit in our cabin, while I slowly (and rather sluggishly) got washed and dressed.  Going out onto our balcony, we looked around with interest at our surroundings.

We were not booked on an excursion today; we’d be going on a tour here tomorrow as we were due to stay in port overnight.  Therefore we had the whole day to explore at our own pace in this, our 87th country.  😊

First of all, a paragraph or two to describe the Seychelles.  The islands were first discovered in 1502 by the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama on his voyage to India.  However, it was the French East India Company who colonised many of the nearby islands and in the 18th century laid claim to the Seychelles.  It was a common stop for Arab slave traders, British and many European sailors travelling the routes to Africa and India.  It was Britain, in the early 19th century who took control from France.

The country of the Republic of the Seychelles achieved independence from Britain in 1976. Since then, the Seychelles opened up and developed as one of the most attractive tourist destinations in the world, with its glorious beaches and picture-postcard beauty.

The Boudicca was at anchor about a mile from shore, and we could see the liberty boats ferrying the passengers across.  We decided to put our swimming costumes on underneath our clothes in case we found a gorgeous beach on which to relax and swim, so I wore my tankini with a matching strapless overdress.

We then went to collect a tender ticket to await our turn, because priority was understandably being given to those who had booked a tour.  Eventually our number was called so we descended down to the pontoon on Deck 2 and embarked the liberty boat for the 10-minute ride across.  The day was already hot and sunny and we could see hillsides with little houses perched on the side, in among the lush greenery, as well as a line of gleaming white catamarans moored up.

Once we got ashore, we decided to try to find a beach.  This seemed to be the more populated part of the island and there were several private dwellings as well as shops, restaurants, bars and commercial buildings, all of them closed on New Year’s Day.  There was quite a bit of traffic about, and we had to be careful walking on the narrow roads, which had no pavements.

The sun was already scorching hot, even though it was only around 10.30am.  We had only been walking about 10 minutes or so, but in this heat it was pretty tiring, and I soon wished I hadn’t worn my Lycra cossie under a Lycra dress, as they were not the best fabrics for keeping cool.  After we’d walked about half a mile with no glorious beach in sight, we decided to turn around and come back the other way, staying in the shade of trees as much as possible.

We did find a tiny little sandy beach area which gave a charming view out towards the small boats and yachts bobbing about on the water.  I kicked off my shoes and walked in the sand down to the water’s edge, paddling in the warm water, where a lone coconut was gently rolling backwards and forwards on the tide.  We could see several holes and mounds of sand, and we wondered what had made them, until we saw several large crabs emerging from and going into the holes.

Continuing on our way, we walked a bit further along until we came to the water’s edge near where the liberty boat had dropped us off.  We sat on some large rocks looking out to sea; one lady had adventurously clambered down the steep rocks to get to a patch of pristine white sand and have a swim in the sea, but in my flip-flops I prudently decided to stay where I was. 😊

As nothing seemed to be open and we didn’t yet have any of the local currency (the Seychelles Rupee) to get a taxi, we decided to return to the Boudicca in time for lunch, because we’d have the chance to come back again tomorrow when we were doing a half-day tour.  We therefore waited in the hot sunshine for the liberty boat to come back, and once again we skimmed across the bay to the pontoon and boarded the ship.  I had thought that I might swim in the pool as I was wearing my cossie anyway, but after a light lunch by the poolside I decided I was still quite tired after our late night and went back to the cool cabin (suite!!) for a post-luncheon nap instead.

Then I had a lovely refreshing shower and did my hair, and we sat out on the balcony for a while, just taking in the scenery and passing pleasantries with anyone passing by our terrace.  😊

The afternoon passed in its pleasant way, then it was time once again to start getting ready for dinner.  The food, service and company on table #31 have been superb so far, and it’s always a treat when dinner time comes around! 😊

Later on, in the Neptune Lounge, Trevor and I practised our ballroom dancing once again, and then it was time for tonight’s entertainment by Welsh comedian Lloyd Davies.  We realised we’d seen him before, on the Braemar, but he’s really funny, as well as being a talented composer and musician, so we looked forward to seeing him again, and he didn’t disappoint.

Then it was along to the Lido Lounge to do the quiz; no sign of Joe tonight because he said he was going to see the comedian again (!) so we were joined by another couple but, as ever, we came nowhere near winning.  Nonetheless we enjoyed the drinks and cocktails and the banter with our fellow passengers until it was time to return to stateroom (suite!!) 7038, and enjoy our final drink of the day out on our balcony, listening to the sounds of the sea and the crickets chirping, and enjoying the balmy night-time air.

Then we settled down in our crisp cotton sheets and, once again, enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

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New Year’s Eve at Sea

Another long, leisurely sea day today as the Boudicca just glided along placidly in the warm turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean; it was great to wake up this morning on the last day of 2018, and look forward to just doing what we wanted, when we wanted.  😊

What we wanted to do first, in fact, was greet the day with another Buck’s Fizz breakfast, as tonight was obviously formal night once again.  We enjoyed a couple of glasses of the free fizz in the Tintagel restaurant, before going out on deck and wandering around in the sunshine, breathing in the fresh sea air and just marvelling at he vastness of the sky and the ocean.  We never tire of this; the pleasure never fades.  😊

At 11 o’clock we attended a talk called “Discovering the Plants and Flowers of the Seychelles”, given by botanist Tracy Foster.  It was a fascinating talk and we learned all about the plants that were native to the Seychelles, including the famous coco de mer, the female tree of which produces a large, heavy fruit reminiscent in appearance to a female human’s thighs and lower belly.  Coincidentally, the male tree produces a long, phallic-looking catkin to accompany the coco de mer – they’ll probably be the most suggestive fruits you’ll ever see.  😊

After the talk we strolled around the deck a little more, and listened to the captain’s noon navigational information.  At the end of his announcement he made a little quote: “We never grow up, we just learn how to behave in public”.

We then decided to eat lunch up on deck by the pool, along with a refreshing glass of cold cider.  We were joined by another lady, a solo traveller who was a first-time Fred passenger, although she was a regular cruiser on other lines.

In fact, one of the things that is a constant conversational theme on cruises is the element of “one-upmanship” that is prevalent among the passengers (and Trevor and I are as guilty as anyone!); it’s a case of who’s been on the most cruises, who’s been to the most countries, who’s in the better cabin grade and who has the higher Oceans Club level. Conversations are peppered with destinations visited, sights seen and famous persons met.  It’s all good fun, however, and you can often get good recommendations or hear interesting stories to bear in mind for future trips.

The time passed in its usual pleasantly relaxing way, then at 1.45pm we went along to the Neptune Lounge to participate in the dance class, as today the dance instructors were covering the rumba and the cha cha cha, which Trevor and I have been learning at home.  We really enjoyed the lesson and danced to some good music. No doubt we’d be putting it into practice later on.

As it was warm in the Neptune Lounge and we’d worked up a thirst dancing, we decided to go along to the Lido Lounge and have a drink.  While we were in there, we listened to the passenger choir practising some songs for the concert they’d be putting on later in the cruise.  Ruth, from table #31, is in the choir.  Trevor enjoyed a “Newky Broon” while I had a very moreish Sangria cocktail.  😊

We then returned to our stateroom (suite!!) and had a 30-minute power-nap, as we knew we’d be up late tonight and there was still a lot of the day to come.  Afterwards, I got showered and put on my makeup and did my hair, in readiness for the New Year Cocktail Party which was on in the Neptune Lounge at half-five for early dinner (i.e. first-sitting) passengers.

As tonight’s formal evening was “hint of tartan”, Trevor wore a Black Watch tartan dickie-bow and cummerbund with his dinner suit. I didn’t have anything tartan, but I dressed in a long black and copper satin, velvet and lace Gothic dress which I wore with long black evening gloves and a black lace choker.  As expected, my sartorial tastes attracted a lot of comments from other passengers and staff, particularly a very pleasant couple, Ken and Lynn, who we’d got talking to on the first formal evening and who asked us to join them.

We enjoyed three or so glasses of the (free!) fizz and listened to the excellent Boudicca Orchestra playing, before the music and conversation were interrupted by a blast of bagpipes blaring out Scotland the Brave.  Along came Allan Tait, the cruise director, fully kilted up and accompanied by the chef, in his whites and tall hat, and a couple of the dancers, also dressed in tartan.  The chef bore a large platter on which rested a haggis, and Alan tried to put on his best Scottish accent and read out Robert Burns’ Ode to the Haggis.  Then Alan stabbed a long knife into the haggis and everyone cheered, as the procession left the stage and dinner was announced.

Inside the Tintagel Restaurant, everyone’s place setting contained a party hat and a blower and the captain’s little quote of the day came to mind, with everyone donning their hats and a cacophony of tooting, squeaking and blaring filling the air.  It was a happy party atmosphere, made even more so when the maître d’ approached our table with a bottle of chilled cava to apologise for forgetting to bring our “anniversary” cake yesterday.  We shared it around the six of us and everyone clinked glasses.  😊

The meal, unsurprisingly, was Scottish Hogmanay themed, and indeed any Scottish people (including Ruth and Mike on our table) had come attired in their best formal jackets and kilts.  We started off with haggis, tatties and neeps accompanied by a “wee dram”, then I enjoyed fresh salad, followed by steak accompanied by rosé wine.  When it came to the dessert stage, we waited to see what would happen.  Sure enough, we heard the sound of approaching tambourines and a guitar, and the waiters all gathered round and sang Congratulations, to an accompaniment of squeaks and hoots from people’s blowers. 😊

Then we were presented with a cake with the words “Happy Anniversary” on it in chocolate, and it was shared out around the table.  John very generously paid for everyone to have an after-dinner liqueur, so I enjoyed my usual amaretto.  What a lovely meal it had been, such good fun and a lovely atmosphere, and the evening was far from over.

Then it was along to the Neptune Lounge for tonight’s show company production, called “Musicology”, which was described in the daily programme as “a collection of various musical genres from pop to rock to opera”.  We sat with John and Margaret off our table, and Don the entertainment host came round with some glow-in-the-dark necklaces (or head-bands) which everyone put on, along with their daft hats.  It was really excellent, and a certainly a very different show, in fact all the entertainment so far has been superb.

Afterwards we just watched the dancers (we didn’t join in this time because I didn’t want to trip over my long dress!) before going out on the rear decks to bag a good table for the grand New Year’s Eve Deck Party.  Outside, we found ourselves sitting with Dave and Julie.  It seemed surreal to be sitting out in the balmy air, looking at the stars above and feeling the warm breeze on our faces – on the last day of December, the depths of winter at home. 😊

Ruth (from our table in the restaurant) had returned to their cabin after dinner for a sleep, as it was a big event tonight for her – she had brought her bagpipes with her and was going to pipe in the New Year from the upper decks!  So she hadn’t had a drink and was keeping herself right for her moment later on.

The music started and people got up to dance and the champagne and cocktails flowed.  There was such a festive, happy atmosphere; everyone was having a great time.  At one point the bar staff appeared bearing trays of fizz (more free drinks on Fred!), and the ship’s photographer came round to capture spontaneous photos of people in their formal/tartan wear along with their daft hats and glow-in-the-dark necklaces.

At 23:55 hours, Trevor and I went up to the deck above the Lido Lounge (Deck 8) where Ruth, Mike and a few others in kilts were waiting for the big countdown.  Soon the band leader bellowed into the microphone “Ten… nine… eight…seven… six… five… four… three… two… one… Happy New Year!” as 2018 became 2019.  Then Ruth struck up with Auld Lang Syne played on her bagpipes and everyone joined in with the familiar “Shud auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind…” and all that.

It was now 1 January 2019.  Trevor and I went back downstairs and re-joined Dave and Julie and had another couple of drinks.  We were glad we were under shelter because, about 30 minutes later, the heavens opened and there was a torrential downpour, sending everyone on deck running for cover.  Talk about raining on one’s parade!  We decided it was as good a time as any to return to our suite just after 1.00am.  As Frank Sinatra declared “What a swell party” it was.  We went to bed and were asleep almost immediately.

Tomorrow we’d spend the first day of the year in Praslin Island, Seychelles.

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Cruising the Indian Ocean

OUR “30th WEDDING ANNIVERSARY”  🙂

We got up about 8.00am and went out onto our balcony, where it was already a very fine day, although there had once again been showers of rain overnight.

We went along to the Tintagel Restaurant for breakfast, then decided to go an do a few laps around the deck, just taking our time and stopping every now and again to look out to sea.  As we were in tropical latitudes, we looked out for flying fish, and sure enough we spotted the familiar streaks of silver on the surface of the ocean, as they fled from the approach of the ship.

As we were walking round, we came across the Chief Officer again, and said our good mornings as well as acknowledging other passengers we’d spoken with.  The Indian Ocean looked very blue and sparkled in the sunshine, as far as the eye could see.  I took lots of photos of the Boudicca; with her classic lines and wooden decking, and lovely cascading stern, she is a proper ship and not one of those “big boxes” we’d heard Captain Sartela speak of so disparagingly last night.

After we’d done five laps we decided to go and get a cup of coffee from the Iceni Room, then take it into the Neptune Lounge for 11 o’clock, as the port lecturer Daniel Thebault was giving a 45-minute talk on Praslin Island, our next port of call.

It looked absolutely gorgeous, just as you’d imagine the Seychelles to be. Judging by the photo-slides, accompanied by Daniel’s excellent and informative talk, we knew we’d be in for a treat later on.

The end of the talk brought us nicely to lunchtime, and we had another wander around deck before going into the restaurant for a light lunch and a nice chilled glass of rosé wine each.

Outside the Secret Garden café, we noticed several ornate and intricate Christmas lanterns on display.  It was a competition in which crew members had created a lantern out of recycled items, creatively using a wide range of materials such as plastic bottles, drinks cans, bottle caps, polystyrene packaging, paper and even a lot of old cruise cards.  The imagination and work that had gone into them was incredible, and it was difficult to know which one to vote for.  In the end, I chose a delicately carved polystyrene creation, that featured doves and flowers and Nativity figures – stunning.

Back in our cabin we pottered around for a bit, just relaxing, before we were due to go along to another presentation, where there would be yet more free fizz on offer while Melanie, the Future Cruises manager, tempted us with the itineraries Fred Olsen Cruise Lines had on offer in 2019 and 2020, showing us some short video clips and really whetting our appetites.  We are already booked to go on the Balmoral for 16 nights in March 2020, but this presentation had me wanting to try to squeeze in another cruise in 2019 (we already have two booked!) or book another one for 2020.  So many cruises, so little time, particularly as Trevor and I both still work full time and are limited to the number of days we can take off.  ☹

Anyway, I must at this point explain the meaning behind the subtitle of today’s entry, “Our 30th Wedding Anniversary”.  Regular readers of this blog may remember that Trevor and I celebrated 30 years of marriage on board the Queen Victoria on 15th October.  So how come it was our anniversary again?  😊

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offer special birthday, anniversary and retirement packages for an additional fee.  However, if it’s a milestone birthday or anniversary (as ours was) and the date falls within three months of your voyage (which it did), then the anniversary celebration package was complimentary on production of a copy of your wedding certificate.

A month or so ago, therefore, I emailed FOCL a copy of our certificate and they confirmed they’d added the anniversary goodies to our booking.  Therefore, in addition to our having been upgraded to a suite and receiving daily fresh fruit and canapés and a free bottle of fizz, we had more goodies to look forward to, courtesy of good old Fred.  😊

Around 4.00pm therefore, a gentle knock on our stateroom (suite!!) door indicated the arrival of another free bottle of fizz on ice, and an exciting gift bag.  Inside the bag was a lovely Anniversary card, as well as a silver-coloured double photo frame, our little gift.  Trevor popped the cork and we each took a cold glass of fizz out onto our balcony, toasting Fred and each other.

We could not help comparing the service we were getting on Fred compared to that which we got from Cunard in October.  On Queen Victoria, despite it being our actual anniversary and a formal evening, we received sweet FA from them, not even the usual serenade and cake at the dinner table.  We’d even told them at the time of booking that we would be celebrating our Pearl Wedding, but all we got was a crappy card, printed off on a computer, with a rubber-stamp signature from the captain and cruise director.  Wouldn’t you have thought, when you spend thousands on a cruise, that they could afford to give you a free cake and bottle of fizz?  I found out afterwards though that, since 2011, Cunard have started charging for birthday and anniversary packages, the tight-arsed buggers.  ☹

It was fair to say though that Fred had more than made up for that, and it added another little special something to our day. We also had the cake and serenade to look forward to at our dinner table tonight, when we could share it with Mike and Ruth, John and Margaret.  😊

Afterwards it was time to start getting ready for dinner, and we took our time, listening to some music on my iPad, and enjoying some more of the cava and the canapés when they arrived around half-five.  Then along we went to the Tintagel Restaurant once again.  Sometimes it feels as if we do nothing else on a cruise apart from eat and drink!  😊

We had a splendid meal as ever, and interesting and amusing conversation, as we worked our way through the different courses and washed it down with chilled rosé wine.  When we got to the dessert stage, I looked inquiringly at Trevor, whispering “where’s our cake?”  Just then, we heard a tambourine and saw the waiters come out of the side-door with their guitar, but they went past our table and went to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone else instead!

The coffee and the liqueurs came and went, and still no cake.  The restaurant was starting to empty out now, and I looked around at our waiter who immediately came over to our table.  I explained we were supposed to receive a cake tonight, for our 30th Wedding Anniversary, but now it was too late as everyone was leaving.  He apologised profusely, as did the Maitre d’ when he came over, but we would just have to put it off until tomorrow night, New Year’s Eve.  It’s not as if it had cost us anything anyway; it was simply a little slip-up.

After dinner we adjourned to the Neptune Lounge where we got up to practise our ballroom dancing, doing the rumba and the cha cha cha (badly!).

The show tonight consisted of a fantastic singer and instrumentalist called Shaun Perry.  He had a gravelly, bluesy sort of voice a bit like Joe Cocker in some places.  We thoroughly enjoyed his show before hot-footing it along to the Lido Lounge for the quiz.  Once again, the floor-to-ceiling doors were concertinaed open, allowing the gorgeous warm sea breeze to infiltrate the room, as people sat out on the rear deck enjoying their drinks.

We were joined by Joe-the-Irishman once again, but we did absolutely appallingly, only scoring 8 out of 15.

Then it was just a case of listening to the pianist and enjoying another drink or two, before going out on our balcony and having a nightcap glass of our free fizz before bed.  Tomorrow would be the last day of 2018, and what a place to be spending it in.  😊

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We had to get up early this morning, at 6.15, in order to participate in our half-day excursion.  In any case, tonight was the first of the formal evenings, so we knew (from experience) that there would be Buck’s Fizz available in the restaurant to imbibe with our breakfast.  😊

In the Tintagel restaurant I enjoyed a platter of fresh fruits accompanied by smoked salmon, cheese and ham, washed down with coffee and a couple of glasses of the free fizz.  Then we gathered together phones, sun protection, local currency (the Euro, as Réunion is an overseas département of France) and cagoules (in case of rain, which had been intermittent).

We didn’t have long to wait in the Neptune Lounge before we were called to disembark for bus number 6.  Even at 7.30 in the morning the sun was already very hot, and the weather was sultry. We had been to Réunion before, in January 2015 on the Voyager, but today we were visiting a different part of the island.

Réunion lies between Mauritius and Madagascar and enjoys a multi-cultural population with a Créole soul.  It is very mountainous with lush tropical vegetation and grows sugar and vanilla.

Our guide today was called Jean-Luc and our driver was Laurent.  Today we were going to take a scenic ride up the mountains to the Piton Maïdo, a peak rising to over 7,000 feet, to get an amazing view of the island.

Our bus set off and we drove along the ever-changing scenery of the west coast, passing through the small town of Saint-Paul with its colourful little houses, shops and gardens, as well as fields of sugar cane, geraniums and tamarinds, beaches with black volcanic sand and other little villages.

Soon the coach started to climb, and the landscape changed to scrubby bushes and trees as our driver negotiated the steep hairpins bends.  The road was pretty narrow and would allow two cars to pass, but not a car and a bus.  Several times therefore, when meeting a car coming the other way around the bend, the car would have to pull right over into the side, or reverse back, to allow us to pass.

We enjoyed the scenery as the view opened out before us, and soon we noticed we were above the clouds; it was like looking out of an aeroplane window.  Eventually the bus parked up and we took a short walk to the viewing point at the edge of a cliff.

It really was something else.  We looked out at a stunning range of mountain peaks interspersed with clouds which never stopped moving.  You might look out to mountains and sky one minute, and then the next minute look again and only see a bank of white/grey cloud.  We also knew we were at 7,000 feet because the air was noticeably thinner up there, although not enough to make us suffer from the adverse effects of high altitude, the way we did on our visit to Peru in 2014.  From here, we could look across to the Piton des Neiges, the highest peak in Réunion, as well as three erosion-worn cirques (volcanic basins surrounded by sheer rocky walls).

We had about half an hour at the viewing point before making our way back to our waiting coach.  Then it was time to make the twisting and turning ride back down the mountain and along to our next stop, which was a geranium distillation plant at the small village of La Petite France.

It was lovely at the geranium place.  We were shown around the garden which contained many different types of pelargonium or geranium, with highly-scented leaves and flowers.  The leaves are pressed and distilled into essential oil which is used in perfume-making.  The distillation process, which takes place approximately every two months, needs 700 kilogrammes of geranium leaves to produce one litre of the essence.  We smelled various types of geranium leaves; one was like roses, one like lemongrass and another one smelled amazingly like carrots.

In the small souvenir shop I bought a bottle of frangipani oil and one of tea-tree oil, then it was back on the coach again for the return trip to the Boudicca, where we arrived just after 12 o’clock, in nice time for lunch.

After dumping our bags in the cabin, we decided to go up to the Poolside Restaurant and enjoy an al fresco lunch and a cold drink.  Trevor had fresh fish and chips with tartare sauce which I enjoyed a ploughman’s lunch. We each washed it down with a glass of chilled cider as we sat and people-watched, then we returned to our stateroom and had a half-hour power nap.

We spent a pleasant afternoon pottering around the ship and doing five laps (one mile) around the promenade deck.  On the way, we exchanged pleasantries with the Chief Officer, Stefan Ravneng, whom we recognised from our voyage on the Braemar last year; in fact, he’d joined our table at dinner a couple of times.  We then went back to start getting ready for the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail Party at 5.30pm.

I took a long, leisurely shower and blow-dried my hair, before applying an elegant evening makeup and adding volume and length to my hair with a hairpiece, which matched my own hair colour exactly.  Then I slipped into a long black and purple velvet and lace Gothic dress, teamed with a neat little black velvet bolero jacket and sky-high heels.  Trevor looked very handsome in his dinner suit and crisp white shirt with black bow-tie and cummerbund.  Then we swept out of our stateroom (suite!!) and made our way to the Neptune Lounge for the party, my dress attracting several compliments on the way.

After stopping for a photograph with Captain Juha Sartela, we enjoyed the usual small selection of canapés washed down with a couple of glasses of (free!) fizz, then the Captain was clapped onto the stage to the strains of Anchors Aweigh! whereupon he introduced us to his senior officers and gave an amusing little speech.

Then it was time to go to dinner, and we went along to the Tintagel Restaurant and enjoyed the usual delicious meal, excellent service and convivial company.  This is only our third day on the ship and yet it has all been superb already; we cannot fault anything. 😊

Tonight in the Neptune Lounge we were entertained by the Boudicca Show Company, who performed an excellent production called “Swing’s the Thing”, with colourful costumes, fantastic singing and high-energy dancing.  We enjoyed it very much.

Then it was, as ever, off to the Lido Lounge to do the quiz; we were joined by one of the guys who joined us the last night, an Irishman who introduced himself as Joe.  We had nowhere near a winning score, however, so we just enjoyed listening to Colin James the resident pianist whilst partaking of some more of the gratis drinks.

To finish off an excellent day, we brought a couple of drinks back with us to enjoy out on our balcony to listen to the sounds of the sea as the Boudicca glided through the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean towards our next destination of Praslin, Seychelles, where we were due to arrive in three days’ time.  We therefore had a couple of days at sea to look forward to now, and we slept well in cabin (suite!!) 7038, looking forward to whatever was in store for us tomorrow. 😊

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Exploring Île aux Aigrettes

It was a struggle to get out of bed this morning due to the 4-hour time difference (it felt like 3.45am) but we nevertheless got up and went out on our balcony, which was already very hot and sultry after the coolness of our air-conditioned room.  The deck was wet in places, however, so there had obviously been some rain overnight.

I decided not to go to breakfast, instead making the most of the tea and coffee-making facilities and the fresh fruit basket in our room, enjoying some grapes and a juicy pear for breakfast.

Once we were ready, we made our way to the Neptune Lounge where we only had a few minutes to wait until our bus (#4) was called, so we happily went down the gangplank.  The sun was beating down as we walked across to the line of waiting coaches, even though it was only 8.30am.  😊

We boarded our air-conditioned coach and set off through the colourful villages, interspersed here and there with lush tropical vegetation and now and then a tantalising glimpse of the sea.  The journey took about an hour and passed the airport on the way, where we saw aircraft taxiing to the runway and taking off, soaring into the distance over the mountains.

Eventually we arrived at a small jetty, and the coach parked up to allow us all to alight.  One by one we boarded the waiting motor-boat, then off we went for a short but exhilarating ride across to the natural island, Île aux Aigrettes, situated in the Mahébourg Bay, approximately one mile off the south-east coast of Mauritius.  Île aux Aigrettes is home to the last remnants of dry coastal forest, which were once ubiquitous around Mauritius.  Like the mainland, however, Île aux Aigrettes was affected by tree logging and land clearance, and the introduction of exotic animal and plant species almost destroyed the native flora and fauna.  In 1965, the island was declared a nature reserve and the immense conservational efforts of the locals and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation has resulted in the restoration of the forest and the reintroduction of rare species that had long since disappeared from the island and were close to extinction.

It’s worth remembering that the Dodo was native to Mauritius, and it was under Dutch occupation that the bird was over-exploited and eaten by the Dutch, leading to its infamous extinction, which led to the well-known phrase “as dead as a dodo”.  ☹

Arriving at this fascinating and picturesque island, we all disembarked the boat and set off into the forest, watching our footing on the uneven ground, which was formed of limestone and coral.  It was gorgeous in the woods, shaded from the hot sunshine whose bright light filtered in through the treetops and leaves and created dappled effects on the ground and tree trunks.  We could see small lizards, about 10-12” long, darting along the lower branches of the trees and on the ground; you had to keep your eyes peeled so you didn’t accidentally step on one.  We learned that the lizards are called skinks and had been brought back from the edge of extinction.

We came to a small sanctuary where there were a number of baby tortoises, and well as some large fruit bats hanging upside down, their leathery wings folded tight against their bodies as they hung on with one claw.

Continuing our leisurely walk through the winding paths of the forest, we arrived at a small nursery where the local plant seeds are carefully collected and preserved for later planting.  There were also some pieces of black ebony wood, as well as dried seed cases and pods, which were used for decoration.  As we were walking along, someone looking through the trees spotted one of the Aldabra giant tortoises.  We weren’t allowed to approach him so couldn’t get a close-up photograph, but we learnt his name was “Big Daddy” and he was approximately 100 years old.

After about an hour exploring the island, we made our way back to the small landing stage and rejoined our boat for the return journey to our bus.  We set off once again, through the colourful streets; it seemed that large, opulent dwellings rubbed shoulders with ramshackle buildings and no apparent town planning was in evidence, but this added to the charm and character of the place.  The only complaint I had was that we were still jet-lagged, and at times it was difficult to stay awake and concentrate on our guide’s excellent commentary.

After a spot of scenic driving along the coast, the coach pulled up at a restaurant called Jardin de Beau Vallon and we all went in, some making a beeline for the toilets.  The restaurant looked lovely; it was open-sided and was situated in lush gardens and had a swimming pool.  We sat down at a long table and shortly afterwards were invited up to the buffet table to collect our starters.  The food was all local dishes and I enjoyed fresh salad, cold meat and cheese, followed by an array of grilled or barbecued chicken, seafood skewers, lamb steaks and cheesy mashed potato and more fresh vegetables.  This I washed down with some well-chilled tropical fruit juice and water.

To finish with, I had a platter of fresh fruits accompanied by almond ice cream and washed down with a cold Phoenix beer, which is the local ale. (We’d passed the brewery yesterday on our way to the port from the airport.)

Thus sated, we boarded the bus once again (and I tried not to fall asleep!) for our last stop, which was to the Naval Museum.  Located at the entrance of Mahebourg village, the Naval Museum was inaugurated sometime around 1950 and specialises in the history of Mauritius relating to the sea; sea battles, ship-wrecks, naval war items etc  This was very interesting indeed, and contained parts of ship-wrecks, including cannons, a ship’s bell and a partly-reconstructed ship, as well as other artefacts.

Then it was back on the bus for the return trip to the Boudicca after a very interesting day.

We arrived back about half-four and had time for a short nap before lifeboat drill at 5.15pm.  We had a mission to accomplish; one of the entertainment staff on board is called Daniel Venton and it just so happens that his mother, Julie Venton, teaches us ballroom dancing every Wednesday back home!  We have been attending the weekly class since September, and when Julie discovered we were going on the Boudicca, she gave us some Christmas cards from herself and Dan’s girlfriend, as well as a small comedy gift, for us to take out to him.  We were sure he’d be delighted to receive something from home over Christmas, when he was thousands of miles away from his family.

After lifeboat drill we returned to our cabin (suite!!) whereupon I went straight into the shower and stood under the hot water, washing off the day’s grime and shampooing my hair.  Then I got dried off, did my hair and makeup, and changed into a navy flocked floral dress with a fluted hemline and silver sandals.  No-one on our table could comment about our appearance tonight!  😊

As ever, we enjoyed the usual scrumptious meal in convivial company, as we regaled each other with tales of what we’d been up to today, and past cruises and voyages.  We experienced a fantastic sunset over the Indian Ocean as the Boudicca put to sea to start our voyage.  Then Trevor and I made our way to the Neptune Lounge to try our hand at some ballroom dancing.  We got up and did the cha cha cha and the social foxtrot (badly!), then it was time for the evening’s entertainment to begin.  This featured Rick Green, a magician, who had apparently received “three yeses” on the TV programme Britain’s Got Talent, although I don’t remember seeing him.

The show was very entertaining; at one stage Rick borrowed Trevor’s right shoe and poured a glass of (what looked like) rosé wine into it.  Then he poured the wine back into the glass again and tipped up Trevor’s shoe, which emptied out a shower of confetti.  Of course, it was all an illusion and Trevor’s shoe was perfectly dry; all very clever sleight of hand and we enjoyed the show very much.

Afterwards we finished off the evening by going along to the Lido Lounge for the quiz at 10 o’clock.  This time we were joined by a couple of blokes sitting at a nearby table; a third one joined shortly so we had a team of five.  It didn’t do us any good, however, because we didn’t win anything tonight.

We then got a (free!) drink each to take back and enjoy on our balcony, relaxing and listening to the gorgeous sounds of the sea, and some crickets who had hitched a ride on the Boudicca chirruping loudly and adding to the tropical atmosphere.  This is certainly the life!

Tomorrow we were due to arrive at Réunion, and we slept very well.

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