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Woke up late this morning and once again I didn’t want to go to breakfast.  I still wasn’t feeling well but I have to shake this cold off come what may, certainly before we reach Goa, India, on Monday.  What made it seem even worse was that we’d had to advance our watches by an hour and a half to India time, so we’d effectively lost 90 minutes’ sleep.

Trevor went off at 10 o’clock to listen to a lecture about the Big Bang Theory, but it was after 10:30am when I finally mustered the strength to climb out of my pit.  I got washed and dressed and went out onto the balcony for some fresh air, and to await Trevor’s return.

Meanwhile, we’d picked up some brochures yesterday from the Future Cruises desk, so we looked through them to see what we fancied booking. There was so much to choose from and so many places that we still haven’t been to, but which are on our list.  Not only were Celebrity Cruises being advertised, but also Azamara Club Cruises, who is the sister company of Celebrity (Celebrity is 5-star whereas Azamara is 6-star).  We’ve done an Azamara cruise before, in May 2011, when we went to the French and Italian Riviera and the Monaco Grand Prix on the Azamara Journey.

We eventually picked out two cruises we wanted to book; one in May 2019 and one in October 2019.  In 2009 we had done a transpacific on Holland America’s Volendam, from Seattle to Japan, and had crossed the 180th Meridian (the International Date Line) leading to us going to bed on the evening of Monday, 28th September and waking up the next morning on Wednesday, 30th September – we didn’t exist at all on the 29th!  Since then, I’d wanted to the same or a similar cruise in reverse, thereby repeating the same date and experiencing a “Groundhog Day”.  😊

We therefore booked a transpacific on board the Azamara Quest, starting in Tokyo, Japan, and taking in the Kamchatsky Peninsula in Russia on the way to Alaska; it looked a fascinating itinerary during the 14-night cruise.

We also booked a cruise from Los Angeles to some of the Hawaiian islands, taking in Ensenada in Mexico on the return journey to L.A.  This one would be on board the Celebrity Eclipse and would last for 15 nights.  As we were booking on board, we got special promotions, an early booking bonus and free on-board credit.  We also got the all-inclusive drinks package thrown in, and the lady gave us a free bottle of wine and said we’d get two tickets in the raffle for a chance to win an Apple iPad.  So that’s now all our holidays taken care of for 2019 now!  😊

This took us nicely up to lunchtime, so I enjoyed some fresh salad vegetables washed down with a bottle of Budweiser.  Then we went and sat out by the pool for a while, which was predictably very crowded; bikini-clad and swimsuited bodies, liberally coated in sun-tan cream, lay out on sun loungers while children splashed in the pool, and one of the entertainment team bellowed into the mike, trying to get passengers to take part in a deck quoits competition.

We sat there for a while then decided to go to the stern of the ship to the Sunset Bar, where I enjoyed an Aperol Spritzer and finished with a glass of chilled prosecco.  😊

At two o’clock we went along to the Celebrity Theatre to see “Land of the Tiger”, a presentation by our on-board naturalist Don Enright.  As the tiger is my favourite animal and we were lucky enough to see them the last time we went to India in 2015, I enjoyed the talk very much, which was illustrated with lots of great tiger photos.

We then enjoyed another afternoon sleep, and I took a couple more Advil and drank lots of water to fight this bloody cold off!  ☹

Then we just pottered around a bit and sat out on the balcony until it was time to go to dinner.  One of the things we had noticed about this American ship, compared to the ones that cater to mainly British clientele like Fred Olsen or P&O, was the way they try to upsell you absolutely everything.  If you ask for a glass of water they ask if you want “regular” water or special water like Pellegrino or Evian.  If you ask for a cup of coffee they ask if it’s “regular” coffee or “speciality” coffee.  Every other “presentation” in the events programme seems to be involved in trying to sell you something, whether it’s an art auction, a spa presentation where they try to sell you skincare or haircare products, a gemstone talk about diamonds or tanzanite, or a wine-tasting event for which a fee is payable.  Also, the on-board prices in the boutiques and spa are way, way more expensive than those other cruise lines I mentioned above.  If people are daft enough to fall for the hype though, then that’s their lookout.

Another thing we’d observed was just how many different nationalities the passengers were.  There are a lot of British; others we’d come across were American, Canadian, Russian, German, Croatian, Jamaican, Indian and Brazilian.  Quite a United Nations really!  😊

Anyway, I eventually got washed and changed and tried to convince myself I was feeling better, but I didn’t really have much appetite for my dinner and left half of it (not that it will do me any harm, ha ha!)

We were finished in time for the evening’s performance at 7.00pm, so we took our usual seat in the theatre to enjoy the voice of Peter Grant who was doing his tribute to Swing music, accompanied by the fabulous and talented Constellation Orchestra.  It was an excellent show, marred only by the fact that it was freezing cold in the theatre and I was shivering under my alpaca wrap.

At 8.15pm I wasn’t feeling too good again, so I decided to return to the cabin for the evening, and relax with a book or some kumihimo.  Trevor, however, went along and watched the quiz, wandered around the ship and just passed pleasantries with our fellow passengers.  Then, at around 10.45pm (very early for us!) we settled down for the night.  I just hoped I would feel better in the morning; as it was, I had a fairly restless night and it seemed an age before sleep came.  Meanwhile, through our open balcony door, I could hear the gorgeous sounds of the Arabian Sea swishing past, and I looked forward to what tomorrow would bring.

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A Passage to India

As predicted, I didn’t feel well at all when I woke up this morning, with a thick head and a sore throat, so I decided not to go up for breakfast.  Instead, Trevor brought a cup of coffee back for me and I drank it sitting up in bed.  Then I shakily got washed and dressed and we decided to go to the shops and buy some paracetamol and cough drops.

We took a slow stroll around the decks, taking in the fresh sea air, as I tried my best to fight off the effects of the cold.  I was glad it was a sea day because I could then spend the day relaxing in the sun or just sitting out on our balcony.  As we walked along and looked at the incredibly flat Arabian Sea, we could see flying fish skimming their way over the calm surface; we nearly always see them in the tropics.

At 10 o’clock we attended a talk given by a guest professor Rod Jory who, by his accent, came from Australia; in fact he told us he was from Canberra.  His talk was all about fresh water, and how it is the earth’s most valuable commodity.  In fact, less than 2% of all the water on the earth is actual natural fresh water; the rest is either sea water (undrinkable) or ice (undrinkable).  So he gave a very interesting lecture about glaciers and icebergs and rivers and waterfalls; it was fascinating stuff.

Afterwards we spent some time sitting out on deck, enjoying the sunshine.  By now I’d taken my second lot of Advil so I’d perked up a bit, and I enjoyed a couple of bottles of freezing cold Budweiser.  😊

I didn’t really want to eat a lot of lunch; in fact I just picked at my food, then decided to go back to the cabin for an afternoon sleep, as I was feeling a bit shivery and achey.  ☹  Trevor went along to a presentation about humpback whales.

Then it was just a case of pottering around the ship and passing the time pleasantly until was time to go to dinner.  I had a long, hot shower and did my hair, then we went to the San Marco restaurant where we requested a table for two for two reasons; firstly, because I didn’t want to pass my germs on and secondly, because I wouldn’t have been particularly good company.

I enjoyed a hot bowl of traditional French onion soup to start with, followed by a steak Béarnaise with vegetables, washed down with a glass of Prosecco.  I was glad I’d brought my pink alpaca wrap with me as it felt cold in the restaurant; in fact, it feels cold all over the ship as they have the air-conditioning blasting away.

Afterwards all I wanted to do was return to our cabin and go to bed, as I really didn’t feel well at all.  Tonight’s performance in the theatre was a classical crossover violinist and normally I would have loved a show like that, but I really didn’t feel up to it.

So I went back to the cabin and got into my pyjamas and went to bed.  There was a good black-and-white movie on the TV, a seafaring yarn called Billy Budd, which was based on the 1924 Herman Melville novel.

Once Trevor got back to the cabin I took another couple of Advil and settled down as best I could for the night.  A bit of a waste of a day really; no-one wants to be ill on holiday.  ☹

Had a bit of a lie-in this morning, until 8.00am in fact, because we weren’t due to arrive in Muscat, Oman until 12:00 noon. Oman would be our 83rd country visited.  😊

We went out onto our balcony and noticed that, despite a latitude that was only just outside the Tropics, it was cooler than we’d expected, and a brisk breeze was blowing.  We quickly washed and got ourselves ready, then went up to the Ocean View self-service restaurant for our breakfast.  Afterwards, we decided to explore the Constellation some more, so we went right up to Deck 11, the topmost deck, where we found lots of little hidden nooks with tables and chairs, where passengers could sit out and enjoy the views and the sunshine.  At the Rooftop Terrace, a large open-air plasma TV screen was showing a wildlife documentary depicting corals and colourful fish, but the few members of the ‘audience’ dotted here and there on sun loungers were reading or napping, and largely ignoring it.  Apparently, films are shown here under the stars; I would imagine that would be quite pleasant, although it might be difficult to hear over the sounds of the sea.

At 10:15am we decided to go along to the morning trivia quiz in the Rendez-Vous lounge, and I took along some kumihimo to do while I was waiting.  The quiz-mistress was a vivacious girl called Gigi who was from Montenegro, and she had 15 questions for us.

We didn’t really do very well, only scoring nine points.  This was probably because some of the questions were based around American TV shows and celebrities, who we hadn’t heard of.  It passed the time pleasantly enough however.

We then decided to go for a coffee and watched the looming land in the distance; it looked fairly rugged and mountainous.  Indeed, Oman has a lot of mountains and fjords, especially around the Khasab area, and is known as the “Norway of the Middle East”.

At around 11.00am we reached our pilot station and awaited our turn to make it into our berth.  Then at midday we were alongside and moored up.  We would remain here until eight o’clock tonight.

The Port of Sultan Qaboos in the capital of Muscat looked to be a busy place, with vehicles going to and fro and a couple of ships moored up opposite.  When I say “ships” however, they were more like mega-yachts, probably only holding a couple of hundred passengers.  That is if, indeed, they were passenger vessels and not some private luxury yachts; Oman is, after all, a very rich place.

At noon we ate a light lunch and went up to the Rooftop Terrace to look around.  We could hear an imam wailing from a nearby mosque, and a few seconds later another one joined in the discordant sound.  Then we returned to our cabin, gathered camera, cruise cards, money, immigration cards and made our way to the Celebrity Lounge to await the call for our excursion, which happened almost straight away.

Disembarking the Constellation, we walked across the tarmac to the waiting nearby buses; we were allocated bus # 5.  Our guide introduced himself as Sayid, and wore the customary long white Arab robe, called a dishdasha, as well as the round embroidered hat called a kuma.  He also showed us how to tie the traditional Arab turban, called a msarr, and explained a little about the Muslim religion, saying that it was good if you were a man, but not so good if you were a woman, for which he apologised.  😊

Our bus made its way through the busy streets and Sayid explained how Oman had been built as it is today starting in the early 1970s, when the OPEC nations got together and decided on a minimum price for oil.  Since then, the evidence of wealth can be seen all over the UAE and its neighbouring countries.

Our first stop today was at another mosque, but we were not going inside this afternoon as it was only open to the public in the morning.  The mosque was opened in 2006 and took six years to build.  It contained five minarets which represented the five pillars of Islam.

Despite me wearing appropriate dress then, it seemed that a lot of the others on our bus hadn’t bothered.  There were lots of immaculate green lawns and beautiful topiary and colourful flower-beds outside the mosque, and the air was heavy with their scent.

Just then, we noticed some police cars pull up outside in the road, where our bus was parked.  The policemen got out and started telling the bus drivers to move along!  So our bus took off and, once everyone was back with Sayid at the allocated time, he had to use his mobile phone to call our driver and ask him to come back.  After a few minutes bus #5 reappeared, and we all piled back on.  Once we were on the road again, Sayid came round with bottles of cold mineral water for us.

We arrived into the town and Sayid told us we had some free time (an hour) to look around the shops, pavement cafés (no bars!!) and the indoor souk.  After using the loo, we went into the souk and looked with interest at the colourful stalls and shop fronts.  Merchants stood outside, trying to entice us into their store and showing us pashminas, scarves, bags, embroidered tops and dresses and hand-made jewellery.  I eventually bought a pair of cotton harem pants in a black and white pattern decorated with elephants, and a couple of fridge magnets.  The whole lot came to $10.00, so it worked out at just over a fiver for the trousers.  😊

Afterwards we decided to go for a cup of coffee so Trevor got some Omani rials out of a nearby ATM, and we went into a little upstairs café.  It took quite a while to come, as the place was busy, so we only had about 15 minutes to drink it.  Then it was back onto the bus for the next stop, which was the Omani heritage centre and museum.  Inside it had portraits of the various Sultans over the years, including His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id, the current sultan, who had been the country’s leader since 1970.  He is now nearly 78 years old and, according to Sayid, not in particularly good health.

We wandered around the museum, looking at the exhibits and the coin and stamp collections, and the types of traditional Arab dress for men and women, as well as a tableau of an Arab wedding, in which the groom carries the large curved ceremonial dagger, called a khanjar, in his belt.

We finished the tour off by going to the Sultan’s palace, and standing outside the distinctive blue and gold façade.  By now it was after 5.00pm and the sun hung low in the sky; I think it sets around 5.30pm this time of year.  We were only just outside of the tropics, but at some point during the evening/night, we would cross the Tropic of Cancer at 23˚ 27’ north.

We arrived back at the port around quarter to six, but instead of going back on board immediately we (along with quite a few others on our bus) walked over the road to where a large duty-free store was advertising a wifi hotspot.  It wasn’t free, however, you had to pay to connect, so we decided against it.  There was nothing we wanted to buy in the duty free so we just made our way back on board.

We got washed and changed and decided to go up to the self-service restaurant, the Ocean View, where they were having an Asian buffet.  We enjoyed a selection of Indian foods washed down with a cold beer each.  Then we went up to the Reflections lounge on Deck 11 where they were holding a “Wheel of Fortune” contest; as Gigi, the host, said there was no wheel and no fortune, but the questions were in the same style where it gave a clue (e.g. a famous person) the number of words and letters, and added extra letters in if people were stuck.  Trevor and I guess four correctly and were joint winners with two other couples, so we collected a couple of prize tokens each to trade in at the end of the cruise.

Then we went along to the Celebrity Theatre and took our ‘usual’ seat in the second row centre for tonight’s entertainment, which was a singer.

The singer was a vivacious girl called Monique Dehaney, and she hailed from the beautiful sunny island of Jamaica.  She was a great singer with lots of personality, and she got all the audience joining in with her rendition of Harry Belafonte’s Banana Boat Song:

“Come Mister Tally Man, tally my bananas
Daylight come and me want to go home”

It was a really great show and we enjoyed it a lot.

When we came out of the show lounge, we were met with the strange phenomenon of people dancing around the ship, although we couldn’t hear any music.  It was Celebrity’s “Silent Disco” – people were issued with stereo headphones through which they could hear the music and dance to it, as well as sing along, but no-one without the headphones could hear the music.  It really was quite amusing to see people bopping away, in the bars and casino and stairways, with no apparent music.  😊

We finished the evening off by going to the Rendez-Vous Lounge and watching the resident band, the J.Beam Band, do their tribute to the Beatles.  We had intended only stopping for one or two drinks and getting an early night, but we got talking to Dave and Alison at the bar, so we stopped for a couple more.  By now I could feel an ominous thickening and tickling at the back of my throat, so it was obvious I was heading for a cold, no doubt caught from Mrs Cough-a-Lot on the flight out.

It was after midnight when we returned to cabin 6098 where we settled down after opening the balcony doors to let in the fresh sea air.

All About Abu Dhabi

Woke up several times in the night, still slightly out of sync with the new time zone.  At 5:45am the wailing of the imam from a nearby mosque, reading verses from the Qu’ran, woke me up, so I got up briefly to close the balcony door (which we’d left ajar during the night for some fresh air, as I hate the drying effects of air conditioning).

At seven o’clock we got up and went out onto the balcony for a look at the new day, in which a blood-red sun hung low in the sky and cut through the early-morning haze.

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second most populous city of the United Arab Emirates (the most populous being Dubai), and also capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the largest of the UAE’s seven emirates. Abu Dhabi lies on a T-shaped island jutting into the Persian Gulf from the central western coast. The city proper has a population of 1.5 million.

Abu Dhabi houses federal government offices, is the seat of the United Arab Emirates Government, home to the Abu Dhabi Emiri Family and the President of the UAE, who is from this family. Abu Dhabi’s rapid development and urbanisation, coupled with the relatively high average income of its population, has transformed the city into a large and advanced metropolis. Today the city is the country’s centre of political and industrial activities, and a major cultural and commercial centre, due to its position as the capital. Abu Dhabi accounts for about two-thirds of the roughly $400-billion United Arab Emirates economy.  We were looking forward to exploring this new port of call for us.

We went along to the self-service restaurant where I enjoyed a platter of smoked salmon, marinated herring, fresh fruits and a croissant, all washed down with strong hot coffee.  Then it was time to make our way to the Celebrity Theatre to book ourselves in for our half-day tour of the city and the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE and one of the largest in the world.

We were allocated bus number 5, and we disembarked the Constellation into the warm morning air.  It was not too hot, and a haze hung over everything, but soon the sun peeped out tentatively between the clouds and eventually the sky cleared to a brilliant blue.

We had previously been advised as to the dress code for visiting the mosque, so I wore a maxi-length dress with three-quarter length sleeves, thong sandals and an embellished wrap which would double as a headscarf.  Anyone who didn’t have the correct attire would either have to borrow an abaya, the long hooded robe worn by Muslim women, or would be refused admission to the mosque.

Our bus made its way through the busy traffic on the wide highways, passing many impressive skyscrapers, hotels and manicured parks.  We saw several mosques with their distinctive minarets and onion domes, and opulent dwellings occupied by millionaires.  The whole place gave the impression of a bustling, affluent metropolis.  Our guide was called Tusun and was actually from Turkey, but he had lived in Abu Dhabi 11 years, so he knew the place very well.  He was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, who laughed a lot or looked as if he was about to laugh.  😊

We arrived at the mosque which was an extremely large and impressive building. Atop the four minarets was a gold ball, each one of which Tusun explained weighed 500kg, or half a tonne, and was made of pure gold.  That means there was two tonnes of gold on the minarets alone!  In fact, Tusun told us that it took 11 years and one billion dollars to build the mosque.  Wow!

We had to leave our shoes on shelves outside the mosque, and the marble flooring was cool beneath my feet.  The décor was absolutely opulent and there were several impressive and ornate chandeliers made with a total of 40 million Swarovski crystals.  Amazing.

We had about an hour in the mosque and its grounds, before making our way back to the bus, where I was thankfully able to remove my headscarf.  Then we continued our city tour, alighting from the bus for a photo stop at the distinctive and impressive Etihad Towers, which consists of four tall towers designed and built with curves and parallel lines; it is the symbol of Abu Dhabi and I would imagine, from the name, is the headquarters for Etihad airline.

Over the road from Etihad Towers was the VIP gate for one of the most expensive hotels in the UAE, the Emirates Palace.  There were also other modern and striking buildings containing banks, hotels and other companies; we were amused to see a Marks & Spencer with the familiar sign also written in Arabic characters!  😊

Around 12.15pm we returned to the cruise terminal, where I purchased some postcards and a fridge magnet for Nicola, a girl we know who collects them.  Then we had to be quickly back on board as the Constellation was due to sail at 13:00 hours and lifeboat drill was at 12:30.  In fact, we were barely up the gangplank when we were told to make our way to our muster station, which in our case was C1.

Muster station C1 turned out to be the casino, so it was certainly an unusual lifeboat drill; I have never had to watch the safety demonstration sitting at a fruit machine before!  The first part of the drill was conducted in English, then it was repeated in other languages, so I took the opportunity to write out some of the postcards.  Once the drill was over, we returned to our cabin, dumped our bags then decided to go up to the pool deck for some lunch and a freezing cold beer each.

Trevor enjoyed a burger and chips, but I wasn’t hungry, so I just joined him for a bottle of Budweiser.  Just after 1.00pm the Constellation gave three blasts of her foghorn to signal the start of our voyage, as she slowly moved away from the quayside and sailed off into the Arabian Gulf.

We sat on the edge of the pool in the sun and enjoyed our beers as we people-watched.  There were quite a few children on the ship and they were making the most of the swimming pool and Jacuzzis, but were well-behaved and not too intrusive.

We sat out at the pool for quite a while, enjoying another two beers each, before returning to cabin 6098 where I did some of this blog, had a short nap to get rid of the last of the jet-lag, then took a refreshing shower and blow-dried my hair.

We decided to go to dinner earlier tonight as we hoped that the service would be quicker and we wanted to be ready to go to the Officers’ Soirée, which is the Celebrity equivalent of the usual Captain’s Cocktail Party and one where you can dress up a little smarter if you wanted.  I therefore wore a silver-grey beaded dress with a fluted lace hemline along with some crystal-adorned sandals and a black sequinned wrap which my Auntie had bought me for Christmas.

We went to dinner at about 6.15pm, and shared our table with two other couples and a Scottish lady who was a solo traveller.  Once again, the service was slower than that which we’re accustomed to; at one time we sat with empty plates, water glasses and wine glasses.  Usually the waiters and busboys are constantly topping up your water glass, but we had to ask for more, and there was a wait of nearly 40 minutes between the starter and main course.  The food, when it did eventually arrive, was delicious however.

At ten to eight we made our excuses to the others on our table, and went to the Grand Foyer where the Officers’ Soirée was.  I was pleased I’d dressed up a little because there were quite a few people there in full formal dress; men with their DJs and bow-ties on, and ladies in sequins and satin, ruffles and frills.

We spent some time talking to Rafaele Bernardin, the Hotel Director, and were introduced to Captain Vittorio Cantu, who is from Venice.  Then we went along to the theatre and got some good seats near the front for tonight’s show.

The show was called iHollywood!  (I don’t know the reason for the “i” as it’s not an Apple product!) and was tremendous.  It consisted of songs from the big movies, including the inevitable James Bond, accompanied by the fabulous ship’s orchestra, as well as lots of high-energy dancing.  The costumes were stunning and it was a very good show, very professionally done.

Afterwards we made our way up to Deck 11, to the observatory bar called Reflections, where they were holding a sing-a-long-a Abba show.  Inside, we met up with the Portsmouth couple again, Dave and Alison, and joined their table.  We got up and danced a few times and sang along with the words of the songs, which appeared on a big screen, karaoke-style.  We also enjoyed a couple more drinks, and we noticed that they were serving cocktails named after Zodiac signs, so Trevor and I each ordered one after our sign – Leo for him and Aquarius for me.  We were astonished when Dave and Alison said they were Leo and Aquarius as well – what a coincidence!

My cocktail contained tequila, orange liqueur and rose essence; it was pleasant but a bit sweet for my tastes.  Trevor’s contained Johnny Walker whisky as well as triple sec; I enjoyed his better than mine.  Dave also decided to try a “Leo”.

Afterwards Dave and Alison said their goodnights and left, whereas Trevor and I stayed for the disco, and I got up and danced a couple of times.  Then we had a night-cap and returned to our cabin, shortly after midnight.  Once again we slept very well, lulled by the gentle movement of the Constellation on the waves.

A new year, a new holiday.  After an excellent night out last night at our local pub to see in 2018, we woke up this morning with a new excitement – today we were setting off for another cruise!  😊

This time, however, there was no leaving the house in the early hours of the morning; we were not due to fly until tonight, so we didn’t leave until 2.30pm for the three-hour drive down to Manchester Airport.

The weather was crisp and cold, about 5˚C, but it was certainly better than it had been on Friday, when we’d had a thick snowfall.  The milder weather over the weekend, however, had seen the last of the snow melt and, despite heavy rain showers most of the way to Manchester, we negotiated the run down to the Skyparks long-term parking place in good time.

We booked the car in and were pleased to see it was a multi-storey, so our car was under cover at least, in the case of any more snow.  But we didn’t have to worry about snow where we were going, because we were jetting off to Dubai, then getting the coach for the hour-long ride to Abu Dhabi to join our ship, the Celebrity Constellation.

We hadn’t been on that ship before, so we were looking very much forward to our 12-night cruise, taking in the delights of Arabia and India.

We got the mini-bus to Manchester Airport and made our way, via several lifts and travellators, to Terminal 1.  As we were flying on one of the giant A380 Airbus aeroplanes, there were 12 check-in desks open for Emirates flight EK20, and the zig-zagging queue moved fairly quickly.

Once we’d checked in our bags, it was off to the Escapes executive lounge, where we enjoyed some hot food and a few drinks while we watched the departures board.  We had about an hour and a half to while away in there before the board announced that we were to make our way to Gate #12.

Once again, the queue to have our boarding passes checked moved quite quickly, and we didn’t have too long to wait until our section was called.  We were allocated seats 43J and 43K in Zone F.  Zone F!!!  The aircraft is so huge that it has “zones” in it.

I had been watching flight EK20 all week on FlightRadar 24, and it has never taken off on time all week.  Tonight was no exception, and we took to the skies half an hour late which wasn’t too bad; on Friday when we’d had all the snow, the flight was over three hours late taking off.  We were given an approximate flight time of just under seven hours, not bad.

The Airbus A380 is a gigantic aircraft indeed, dwarfing even the Boeing 747, or “jumbo jet”.  The aeroplane holds over 500 passengers over two decks; we were allocated the lower deck near the front.  We were disappointed to see that there was no more legroom or seat-width than any other aircraft however (at least not in cattle class).  😊

En route, we enjoyed a couple of drinks and a 4-course meal of aeroplane fare, although to be fair we have always said that Emirates in-flight meals are always fairly substantial, so we had no complaints there.  Our only concern was the lady who was sitting in the aisle seat next to Trevor, who was clearly not very well and spent the entire flight cough, cough, coughing.  I hoped I wouldn’t go down with anything; long-haul flights are notorious for recycling germs.

We tuned our AVOD systems to the SkyMap so we could keep track of where we were, and I passed the seven hour flight reading my Kindle, playing on my laptop, reading the in-flight magazine and dozing.  The flight was, on the whole, quite smooth with only slight turbulence. At around 5.00am I looked out of the window and saw a deep maroon glow in the sky just above the horizon, and Trevor and I watched as the sun came up in a blaze of reds, oranges and gold against a flawless blue sky.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Despite the 30-minute delay in taking off, we managed to make up the time and we landed in Dubai at 07:49 hours local time.

The most tedious part of the journey started now, however.  We joined the colossal queue through Arrivals and had our passport and other documentation checked, before making our way to the baggage carousel, where we collected our cases more or less immediately.  Then it was through customs and outside to the waiting coaches, which were there to take us to Abu Dhabi.  We were advised it would take about an hour and a half.

Long and boring story short… we arrived at the cruise terminal, joined the inevitable queue and eventually made our way up the gang-plank of the Celebrity Constellation just after 1.00pm.  Alongside us in the port was a huge TUI ship, Mein Shiffe 5, and an AIDA ship.

After we’d had our cruise cards scanned to welcome us on board, we were met with a complimentary glass of something (I think it was Vermouth) before we could go to our cabin.  The queues for the lift were massive, so we decided to get some exercise and walk up the stairs to Deck 6, and our allocated balcony stateroom, 6098.

Cabin 6098 is airy, spacious and very pleasant; in fact, it reminded us of our recent cruise on Arcadia as it was very similar in size and layout.  There was a queen-sized bed as well as a settee and table, dressing area with vanity unit and stool, and large balcony with a couple of reclining chairs and a small table.  The bathroom had a shower stall, sink, WC and the usual selection of complimentary toiletries.  There was also a fridge with some soft drinks, bottles of water, beer and some half-bottles of wine.  We felt we would have a very comfortable stay on board the Constellation.

We weren’t as tired as we thought we’d be (despite the 4-hour time difference), so we went along to the pool deck and enjoyed a couple of freezing cold beers and a light lunch; Trevor had a hot-dog while I just partook of some fresh salad vegetables.  Afterwards we wandered around, exploring the ship, before we arrived at the Sunset Bar at the stern of the vessel, where they had a huge array of spirits and mixers; we were told it was an “International Bar” so just about every spirit/cocktail imaginable was available.

We enjoyed a couple of cocktails each, indulging in small talk and banter with our fellow passengers as well as the bar staff.  Then the jet lag started to catch up, so we decided to go back to our cabin and see if our luggage had arrived.

No sign of our luggage when we got back, but I thought I’d have a long, refreshing shower.   Afterwards we just sat out on our balcony for a while, then had a long-awaited afternoon nap.  Then the cases arrived and we spent some time hanging everything up neatly, before getting washed and changed for dinner.

There is no set dining, or no allocated tables on the Constellation, so we just made our way to the restaurant and advised the waiter that we wouldn’t mind sharing (which is all part of the fun).  So we found ourselves on a table with two other British couples, one couple from Wales and another couple from Portsmouth, which is actually where I was born and where I spent my formative years.

The evening passed in pleasant and interesting conversation, punctuated by the arrival of delicious food.  I had a beetroot salad with feta cheese to start with, followed by a home-style pork chop and vegetables, all washed down with prosecco.  I passed on the dessert, just opting for coffee instead.

The service was quite slow in the restaurant, so it was after 9.00pm when we left.  We thought the later show started at 10 o’clock but the theatre was closed when we got there.  After pottering around for a bit and looking in the shops, tiredness caught up with me, so I decided to go back to the cabin, whereas Trevor said he’d go to the show, which was actually on at 10.30pm.

When he came back, we settled down for the night and slept very soundly, after a long and, at times, tedious day.

Beautiful Bruges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Into the North Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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