Alis Grave Nil

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Last Leg of our Cruise

Before I continue, I just wanted to mention something I saw on Sky News while we were in our cabin one morning.  Good old P&O, only two channels on the TV - Sky News and Sky Sports. What a great marketing ploy to keep your passengers out of their cabins and up on deck spending on the ship. Anyway, the presenters were discussing Brad Pitt's new World War II film, which I think is called Fury.  Apparently Brad employed the services of a 90-year-old war veteran to advise him throughout the film.  I bet the old boy thoroughly enjoyed doing that.  The elderly gentleman didn't have a clue who Brad Pitt was when he was first contacted and said something like, "If you're not Alex Guinness then I don't know who you are".  Brad took it all in good humour (he's a lovely lad is Brad - kind face).
FEMALE SKY NEWS REPORTER: "He didn't know who Brad Pitt was?  Where has he been? 
Who are these people?
I'll tell you who they are.  They are the kind of people who eat in Marco Pierre White's restaurant in London and rave about it to their media bubble friends. The same nitwit female reporter will order the consommé and then say, "this is to die for.  I must ask Marco for the recipe". 
"It's a Knorr stock cube with boiling water, love, and you've just paid £100 for yours".
Toulon Harbour
There wasn't a great deal to Toulon and we were originally going to catch a train to Cannes but decided against it because the journey was an hour and a half and the trains were not that regular so we didn't want to be stranded as the Ventura set sail for Barcelona. We wandered round the streets of Toulon, through the market streets filled with the scent of wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables and herbs.  I could just have stood there and breathed it all in for hours.  It smelled as if all the fresh produce had been picked that morning, which it probably had. We stopped for a coffee and to my great delight, the French waiter was quite snotty...but not enough.  We should have stopped off at Nice the other day for some super-snottyness. The best snotty waiters are there.

We walked a bit further on and found an indoor shopping centre with a huge supermarket as well as other shops.  I turned round and saw Roberto dashing up the escalator and wondered what the fluff he was up to.  When I got to the top of the escalator, I realised what it was.  No, it wasn't a shop that sold special NASA baseball hats.  It was his old favourite shop, C&A.  Great joy! He used to love C&A in the UK because it was one of the only shops that didn't mess around with the sizes and their shirts always fitted him perfectly.  We found him three nice shirts and when I got to the checkout, the very nice French checkout lady told me there was 50% off two of the shirts - even greater joy!  We didn't do much more in Toulon as we were still quite tired from all the gadding about the day before so we just had a cold drink at the harbour and then went off to join the queue for the tender boat and went back to the ship.  

The next day was a welcome sea day and we just chilled out, sat in the sun, walked round the deck and just generally faffed around, as you do.

Sunday and we are in Barcelona.  It was incredibly busy with thousands of tourists.  There were also three other huge cruise liners docked up beside the Ventura.  We walked the length of the Ramblas and then came to a big shopping centre, which was closed.  It's not that we only went to shopping centres on our holiday, but I always find it interesting to see what the shops are like in other countries.  We found out that the big stores don't open at all on Sundays in Barcelona so I was a bit annoyed with P&O for that one because the Sunday docking was probably cheaper for them.  I loved the Spanish people though.  They are so patient and even if they didn't speak much English, they tried their best (I don't speak any Spanish) and the thing I liked most was when you were crossing a road at a crossing, they weren't revving up their engines like Formula 1 drivers, ready to run over your toes (like they do in France). 

Christopher Columbus statue (left), Barcelona
Our last stop on the cruise was Palma in Mallorca. I loved it!  I had only ever been to Mallorca  once when I was about 23 years old on a girly holiday and all we did was sunbathe and swim and go out at night, as you do when you are young.  I would love to go back to Mallorca for a proper holiday, hire a car and go exploring.  The weather was fantastic for October.  At midday it was about 28 degrees. Even more exciting for Roberto....we found another C&A shop - WHOOOPPPEEEEE!! It was funny because it had autumn and winter woollies in when it was so hot outside.  Maybe they were for the British tourists.  Anyway, we both bought a winter jumper each - no, not matching.  Roberto now wants to plan a driving tour of Europe, based on where the C&A shops are located.

The Cathedral in Mallorca
The harbour in Mallorca
Well, that was just about it mes amis.  We had one more sea day and then on arrival at Malaga, we were transported to the airport at 6am and homeward bound, arriving in a dull grey Manchester at around 12.30 and then getting stuck for two hours on the M62 because of an accident.  Never mind, we had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed our first cruise. We can't wait for the next one.  Better start saving.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Monaco & Antibes

During our recent cruise we had surprisingly good entertainment in the evenings. I was expecting typical cruise ship crooners (there were a few) but we had a really good Elton John tribute singer, a Kenny Rogers and a Phil Collins.  They were all very good.  Then one night in the theatre we had Tom O'Connor.  He is still going strong and is much funnier than some of the younger comedians you see on TV nowadays. There was a ventriloquist one night but that was just a step too far for us.  We gave that one a miss.
...and onwards to Monaco....
Early morning arrival in Monaco
We were out on the balcony again in our jimmy jams to see the ship's arrival in Monaco.  I don't think I've told you before chers amis but I lived in Nice for about a year when I was in my late twenties and had a job in Monaco as a secretary in a shipping agency (it's still there).  Please don't think it was all glamorous and exciting.  It was the most boring job I have ever had and the hours were long but it was a lovely place to work, and I didn't have to pay tax - result!  Anyway, because we knew Monaco quite well, we decided to take the train to Antibes for part of the day and then have a walk round Monaco when we came back.
I couldn't believe how much Monaco had changed.  We thought it would be easy going to the train station which wasn't anything special the last time we were there.  Now, it has  been completely modernised and extended and is all under cover.  We walked a mile along a moving walkway and followed directions for the ticket office.  The ticket office was closed.  Of course, it was still before 9am.  So we tried to suss out the ticket machine, which took a while but we managed in the end and then we had to try and work out which platform to wait on, which also was not obvious and there were no  screens on the platform to help.  Anyway, we eventually got our train and made our way to Antibes.  It is a lovely train ride along the coast in the bright sunshine.  I can't remember how long it took, maybe half an hour or 45 minutes.
Back street in Antibes
The harbour at Antibes
My boat's bigger than your boat!
The last time we had been in Antibes was quite a few years ago, maybe 15, and Roberto remembered going into a little café/restaurant and having the best chicken club sandwich ever, so we went in search of the Key West....and we found it!  He was over the moon, and the menu was still the same.  So if you are ever visiting Antibes, go to the Key West for your lunch. 
Key West Bar/Café in Antibes.  It isn't anything special
but their chicken club sandwiches are just fab.
I bought a big bag of herbes de Provence (a magic ingredient for my winter soups) and some lovely lavender soap from one of the little shops in Antibes and then we were off back to Monaco on the train.

It was hot, noisy and crowded in Monaco.  There is building work going on everywhere you go.  I was really tired by this time and I couldn't face the climb up the hill to Monte Carlo so we found the lifts that took you most of the way up.  There was a wedding going on in the Hotel de Paris. We didn't see who it was but you should have seen the cars parked outside!  There was quite a few million squid in cars alone. We just had a wander round and took a few photos. I was just about past myself by then so we wandered slowly back to the ship and had a look in a few shops on the way.

Monaco harbour with our ship the Ventura docked up.
Sun setting over Monaco as we sail away

Update on Roberto's lost hat.  No we haven't suddenly found it but he's still chuntering on about it, saying that some old b***d is wearing his special NASA hat on the way to the Caribbean on the next leg of Ventura's cruise. I might just go online and see if I can still order one from the NASA website and pretend that the old b***d felt guilty and sent it in the post. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Arrivederci Roma et Bonjour Ajaccio

Ajaccio from the top of our tour bus

If felt a bit strange arriving in a different country each day, but it was a nice kind of strange.  We looked forward each morning to exploring the new place we had just arrived at. I forgot to mention that every time we disembarked, the P&O photographers were waiting for us like paparazzi.  They took a photo of disembarking passengers at every stop and then later on you could go to the photo gallery and find your photo and pay...wait for it...£11.80.  They also took photos of you at the black tie evenings (if you wanted a special portrait) and those photos cost £17.95.  The special album to collect all your photos cost £21.00, so if you were daft enough to buy every photo and an album, you would be out of pocket to the tune of about £200 squid or more.
Anyway, we made our way out of the port in Ajaccio and found an open top double decker tour bus and decided to do the little tour.  Quite a few of the other passengers came along as well and it was a lovely tour round the coastal road and then back through the town.  For some strange reason, we didn't take a lot of photos in Ajaccio so I can't show you much of it.  Again, it was a lovely old town with a market in the square and lots of interesting little shops. After the bus tour, we went to a café to have a cappuccino and decide what to do next.  I saw this couple from our cruise ship sitting at the end table in the same café.  I don't like to speak ill of my fellow British passengers but they were both very large and round and I'm sure I heard the woman asking the French waiter if they did English breakfast.  I wasn't sure if I heard it right because there is no way those two would have missed breakfast on board the ship, but sure enough, the waiter brought them a menu. Later on when we were back on board the ship, we went up to the buffet restaurant for afternoon tea - how lovely is that? They did little dainty sandwiches, cakes and toasted tea cakes and it was all very British.  I came upon the round couple again, plates piled high with the little sandwiches and cakes.  I don't like to judge people but I couldn't believe how much they ate.  Maybe food is an addiction for some people. To the Rolling Room with them!
A week into our cruise and we arrive back in Italy, this time in Genoa.  For most of the stops, we had done our own research into what we wanted to see, train timetables etc because the P&O organised excursions were quite expensive.  However, we noticed there was a trip to Portofino and there is no way we could have found our own way there so we splashed the cash and booked the trip and we were very glad we did. 

The coach took us to a little fishing village called Camogli to catch the boat to Portofino.  We had an hour in Camogli to go for a coffee and explore a bit.  It was really lovely, with all the high flats painted different colours.  The tour guide explained that this was for the fishermen years ago.  After they had been at sea for days they would look out for their own apartment by the colour and it would cheer them up and make them feel as if they were nearly home.

Camogli, Italy

Arriving in Portofino

 Portofino is not that big but it is absolutely beautiful.  After having a walk round we stopped at a café for a gelato.  They were expensive but we thought we would treat ourselves.  We thought they would be big and fancy with bells on.  In fact, when they arrived, it was 3 scoops of ice cream in a small silver dish.  Never mind, at least we can say we had a gelato in Portofino. We would like to have stayed for longer but the tour guide told us all to meet up at a certain time to get the boat back for the coach.  We didn't go back to Camogli, however.  This time we went onwards and were dropped off at Santa Margarita which was also a lovely town but we didn't have time to see it properly as we were marched to the coach to go back to Genoa.

Right, onwards and upwards.  Monaco and Antibes in a day next....think I need a rest. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

First Stop Kotor, Montenegro

Early morning arrival in the Bay of Kotor
I had never heard of Kotor before our trip.  Its neighbours are Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Albania. We got up early to see the beautiful bay surrounded by mountains.  It was like sailing through a fjord.  It was cool and misty and very quiet and peaceful. We stood on the balcony in our jimmy jams and enjoyed the beautiful views and the calmness of it all.

Then after breakfast we jumped into the tender boat with some other passengers and off we went to explore another new place. It is only a small town but it dates back to Ancient Roman times.  On disembarking the tender boat, we were instantly bombarded by touts trying to sell tours and taxi rides, which was a bit disconcerting to say the least.  We hurried through the crowd and went our own way, immediately finding the entrance to the old town.

The old town of Kotor
We wandered around looking in all the little shops and then found our way to the top of the town where there was an old stone path you could walk up to an ancient fortress. Malheureusement, we didn't make it to the fortress, chers amis. It was like climbing a mountain.  The path was all cobbled stones and there were rough steps at the side which were easier to walk up but it was so steep to climb up and we were gasping for breath after each section.  Can I just point out that we were not the only unfit people on the climb.  There were plenty of other tourists wheezing and gasping on their way up. Anyway, this is the photo we took when we got to the part where we couldn't take another step.

Kotor, Montenegro
Then it was downhill to a lovely café in the square for a cappuccino.


The next day we arrived at Corfu.  We woke up early again, eager to get out and explore some more. Now Roberto had brought a special baseball cap with him.  He had bought it on holiday in America many moons ago in the Kennedy Space Centre.  It was a 40th anniversary of NASA hat and he had been saving it for a special occasion (I think that must be a man thing). Anyway, somehow or other between walking from our cabin to the shuttle bus, he lost said hat.  I don't know how he did it (no, he wasn't wearing it at the time!) but I didn't hear the end of it. He bought another one in Corfu because it was really hot there but it just wasn't as special as his NASA one.  He kept complaining that some old b***d on the ship would be wearing it by now and when we got back to the ship, he was looking menacingly at all the people with beige baseball caps on, ready to pounce. 

The old town of Corfu.  I loved all the little shops,
especially the leather bag shops.

We had another sea day and then we arrived in Civitivecchia, Italy. We had checked out the train timetables to Rome before we went on the cruise.  We bought a return BIRG ticket for 12 Euros each, which was extremely cheap considering it was an hour's train journey to Rome and we could also use the ticket on the Metro and bus systems.  On arriving at Roma Ostiense station, we found the Metro and went two stops to Il Colosseo.

Photos taken and then it was back onto the Metro to San Pietro and the Vatican.  We didn't go into the Vatican because we didn't have time to wait for 3 hours, and to be honest, I wouldn't have waited for 3 hours anyway.  The queue must have been a mile long, if not longer.  It was as if people were waiting to see Jesus. I would like to have seen the Sistine Chapel but we  had less than a day to visit Rome and see as much as we could.
We had a walk round St Peter's Square because Roberto wanted to find the clues between the paving stones and solve the mystery of the Da Vinci code.  There were thousands of people there.  I mentioned the robbers at the gates because we had a look at the Vatican related souvenir tat on the stalls and shops and couldn't believe the prices.  If you wanted to buy rosary beads, they were 35 Euros on some stalls.  I would want diamond ones for that price. We also enquired in a shop about an SD card for Roberto's camera.  The price was 50 Euros, for the same one he bought in the UK for about £12. It disgusted me really because on all the streets we passed there were poor beggars lying there with limbs missing.  It was just awful and everyone was just walking past them - all those Christians. Jesus (if he really did exist) would definitely not have liked it. My early catholic brainwashing  came in handy as I was reminded of the story of Jesus in the temple:
"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves."   Matthew 21:12-13

Just for the record, I did have to look the quote up.  The brainwashing wasn't that effective. I'm not sure whether I was  having an off day but I just didn't like Rome.  Whether it was just the heat and the number of people but I wanted to run for the hills. Never mind, at least I can say I've seen some of it. The Italian trains were great - double deckers with very comfortable seats.  I thought we had made a mistake and gone into a first class carriage.  They were also slap bang on time in both directions.  We have a lot to learn from the Europeans about train travel.

Arrivederci Roma


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Still Cruisin'

Don't worry, chers amis, I won't bore you with every day of our cruise but a few funny things did happen on our first sea day.  We went exploring on the ship on the first day, finding out where everything was.  Everyone is allocated a restaurant with waiter service, although you can go to the buffet restaurant any time you want.  We wanted to find ours so that we could go on the first formal night when you put on your posh clobber. Our restaurant was called Cinnamon and when we found it we noticed that there was a Marco Pierre White menu displayed outside.  We heard another passenger saying that it was just an advert for his White Room restaurant which was also on board (one that you had to pay through the nose for).  Anyway, we skipped off and continued exploring.
In the afternoon, we were just sitting relaxing in the bar/pool area, enjoying the sunshine and having a cold drink.  I saw someone pointing upwards and followed his gaze.  Standing in the open air restaurant above us, hair blowing in the breeze was......none other than Rob Brydon.

Rob Brydon, P&O Cruise Ship Ventura
9 October 2014
Just one more take, guys, and then it'll be a wrap.

We think he was making an advert for P&O.  They did the same take about ten times.  It got a bit boring in the end. Anyway, that was a bit of excitement on a sunny afternoon on the Adriatic.

Now to the formal evening.  There were a lot of seasoned cruisers in dinner suits and bow ties and ladies in long evening dresses. Ladies could also wear short cocktail dresses or smart trouser suits and the gents could wear a normal dark suit with tie. Roberto and I got dressed up and ready for our first meal in the Cinnamon restaurant.  We were looking forward to our meal but when we arrived and were seated, we discovered that the menu was in fact a Marco Pierre White menu.  I ordered the soup as a starter and Roberto ordered smoked salmon (once we had translated the menu from gobbledegook).  Well, the soup turned out to be consommé and I'm sure it was made from his so-called secret ingredient, i.e. Knorr stock cubes. We did have a laugh about that actually. Roberto's smoked salmon arrived.  He had one small piece of transparent smoked salmon with little bits of decoration around the plate and a small piece of lemon tied up in a muslin bag.  All very decorative but we were hungry!! The next course was also little bits of food decorating the plate so we decided to skip the dessert and raced upstairs to the buffet restaurant for some real food.  'Twas very disappointing.  I can't understand people paying hundreds of pounds for food like that and then raving about how brilliant it is.  Londoners, you can keep your celebrity chefs.  I did notice during the holiday that a really attractive girl was sent round to try and get bookings for the White Room every day.  I didn't see one person making a booking with her. In fact, she looked as if she was past herself most days.

Right, next stop Kotor.  Where the fluff is that?


Friday, 24 October 2014

If it's Wednesday, it must be Venice

P&O Cruise Ship Ventura docked in Venice
Captain's Log, star date October 8 in the year 2014. Our first cruising adventure begins as we wake up before the larks to get ourselves to Manchester Airport three hours before take off.  We are herded through the security zone and come out at the other end weary and hungry and then have the most expensive breakfast we've ever had in the airport feeding area.
Our flight was on time and it was lovely and sunny and warm when we arrived in Venice Marco Polo Airport.  I can't praise P&O enough for the extremely smooth transition between airport and cruise ship.  We didn't have to collect our bags in the usual carousel scrum but just went straight through passport control where a bored official just gave our passports a cursory glance and off we went straight to the comfortable coach and onwards to the ship. Our suitcases arrived later and were delivered to our cabin.
On arrival at the Ventura, we were told that the cabins were not quite ready and would we proceed to the 15th floor (or should I say deck?) where we could get tea and coffee.  Managed to find the lifts and got ourselves up to Deck 15...and my God, the British had arrived!  It was packed with lunchtime passengers who had joined the cruise earlier, as well as all us newbies.  There was not one free table in this huge buffet restaurant.  We were shattered by this time, having been awake since 2am and we just wanted to sit down and have a nice cup of tea.  Roberto was past himself (quaint old Yorkshire expression for being extremely tired and p***d off), and announced that he was going home.  I led him gently to an outside bar area where I had noticed people smoking, sat him down on a bar stool with an ashtray nearby and told him to light up (I don't advocate smoking but he was past himself).  I then went and found the tea and coffee machines and got us a nice strong cup of tea and we started to feel a bit more human.  By the time we had something to eat from the buffet (the food was lovely), there was an announcement that the cabins were ready so we ran like two excited children to find the lifts to get to our cabin. 

Our luggage hadn't arrived yet but we were really happy with our lovely cabin and balcony. So after a quick skip around the cabin, we set off for Venice.  P&O had provided a water bus for passengers who wanted to go into the centre of Venice. 
Venice - photo taken from the Water Bus

View from the Rialto Bridge

We would love to have had more time to explore Venice but we enjoyed what we saw and hopefully one day we will go back and explore some more.


Marco Pierre White's menu in our restaurant (yuk!) and celebrity spotting onboard the Ventura. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?

I don't know if you will be interested in this chers amis but I watched this BBC programme the other night and found it so interesting,  not least because it was about my ancestors as well.  Billy Connolly's grandmother, Flora, and my grandmother, Mary Cusick (nee McGowan), were sisters.  Flora was my great-aunt. Although I don't remember seeing her that much when I was young, I can always remember her calling into my grandma's house and giving us a square of her Fry's Crème bar before she left. She always made us laugh when she was leaving because she shouted "Cheery Bye!"  When we were young, we thought that was hilarious for some reason.
We also knew Billy's mother, Mame but we didn't know about him for years because it was all a great family secret/scandal.  The fact that a young married woman had left her kids and run away with a married man and started a whole new family in Dunoon, just wasn't talked about to children.  Although our staunch catholic family would have been appalled by what she had done, for some reason, they stood by Mame and I'm glad they did.  She was the funniest person I ever met. When we were about 8 or 9, my brother and I were taken to visit Mame in Dunoon by my aunt. Well, the two ladies were desperate for a gossip sans enfants so Mame handed us both an orange from the fruit bowl and left us in the capable hands of her husband, who was also left with two other very small grand-children. I was terrified of dogs when I was young and as soon as the bloody dog saw the orange in my hand, it thought it was a ball and started chasing me round the coffee table - I was screaming but I didn't think to let go of the orange.  Eventually Mame came back in and dragged the dog into the kitchen where it promptly chewed my aunt's expensive leather handbag handle.
Once we were at a family funeral and the same aunt was taking my sisters, brother and myself in her old Mini (i.e. like the ones from the original Italian Job) back to my grandma's house.  There must have been three of us in the back seat and we called Mame over to give her a lift.  Well, she clambered in backwards and promptly sat on the floor.  That started us laughing and then she shouts "Did you lot move that seat back deliberately?" Maybe it was the stress of a funeral but we all laughed until we cried and then some more.  I knew Mame before I knew her back story so I knew her without judging her and I liked her for who she was.  Maybe I would have thought she was a terrible person for leaving her two children if I had known but I am glad I didn't have the chance to judge her, and I was also glad when Billy said he didn't bear her any malice for what she had done.
Anyway, I've never met Billy Connolly but I was always secretly proud to be related to him.  We were not allowed to have his early concert LPs because my mother thought they were too rude (which they probably were) so we used to stand outside this older boy's house and listen to him playing the record at full blast in his bedroom with the window open. No instant downloads in those days eh?  
I will be on radio silence for two weeks from mercredi, mes amis.  See you on the flip side, as they say.