Explorer of the Seas and France

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Middle East » United Arab Emirates
April 22nd 2019
Published: April 30th 2019
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Sunday 21 Apr 19 - Brisbane

Testing the system to make sure the blog works on my Netbook computer that I am taking with me.

Day of departure. Just about packed and a slow day of waiting ahead until we head to the airport at about 11pm tonight. Our flight departs at 2:35am tomorrow morning bound initially for Singapore and then to Dubai where we will arrive around 1pm tomorrow. The two legs of the flights are around 7.5 hours each and we have a 1.5 hour layover in Singapore. More once we get underway.

Mon 22 Apr 19 - Departing Brisbane - 01:00hrs

The departure from the unit (11:30pm) and the check in at the airport have gone well. Uber driver was very pleasant - but a lot more expensive coming from Indooroopilly than from Carseldine. We used to get there from Carseldine for around $50 - it was $71 tonight. Very quiet here at the airport (so far) and straight through all the checks and balances. Even the TRS staff have taken an early mark and everyone has to fill out a form - got one of the last ones left so don't know how those coming late will go !

Evidence of our world class international airport - only one coffee shop open in the whole departure lounge and half of that is closed off for cleaning ! At least the coffee was good.

Flight left on time at 02:35am - pretty full seating. The B777 they are using is an obviously an older plane and showing its age. Staff are great though.

Food on this leg was abysmal. A dry chicken bun for the 4am snack. Breakfast was just passable with a choice of cheese omelet or scrambled egg.

Got a bit of snoozing in but no quality sleep. Have tried a new neck support on this trip - a TRTL - that has a U-shaped brace to balance neck on the shoulder. It helps.

Arrived Singapore at 0700 local time and only had time to stretch the legs and hit the bathroom before reboarding for the Singapore / Dubai leg. We have / will have the same seats throughout the journey in 46A and 46 B - the 2 seat configuration on a B777 that the A380s do not have. Saves having to climb over someone or have someone climb over us in the usual 3 seat layout.

We were worried about stories of problems taking bottles of wine through Transit in Singapore. We have previously seen bottles being confiscated. But we had ours in a sealed bag and though the security guy took a really good look, no problems - so we have our first two bottles of NZ Sav Blanc to take on board !

Bumpy ride over the Indian Ocean and Indian mainland but nothing too bad. It always seems to bounce around over the Indian area. No sleep - day time flying - so a bit of reading and a couple of movies. Food much better on this leg of the journey with a decent snack to start and then a good lunch

Mon 22 Apr 19 - Arrive Dubai

Arrived Dubai 1:00pm to 40 degrees ! Very warm even in the airconditioning getting off the aircraft. No problems through immigration or customs - they do not even look twice - anyone could stroll in with whatever they want here.

Took a Ladies cab for the short drive to Deira where our Ibis Hotel is located. The Ladies cabs have a pink top as against the red tops of the male drivers. We like to support the ladies when we can here. The hotel is standard Ibis layout, very simple but always clean. It is located alongside a large Mall - Deira City Centre - which is good for the stock up for the cruise. There is a large (huge) Carrefour supermarket inside - bigger than the one down at Mall of the Emirates where we usually stay. It is also relatively close to the Port Rashid Cruise Terminal for our transfer on Wednesday.

Took the Metro to see Vijay the jeweller - 3 zones - 10.50 Dirham - about AUD$4 each one way. Driverless, clean, efficient, on time, well used - does that remind you of our "world class" train system in Brisbane ?? Who is kidding who about which first world country we come from !!!??

Mr Vijay the same as always - literally three mobile phones on the go all the time while chatting with us - going hammer and tongs in Indian to whoever. Happy to see us again (of course) and he and Roz started the black art jewelry conversations which are totally foreign to me. I just sit back and enjoy the free water and coffee offerings. At the end, Vijay provided us with a driver to take us back up to Deira - I understand the car is picking us up again tomorrow to continue the chat.

Back to the Deira City Centre to start the shopping for the consumables we did not bring on the plane - deodorants, hairspray, washing powder, toothpaste, toilet sprays etc. The size of the Carrefour store is amazing - think the whole of the Aspley Hypermarket in one store and that is about the size. The deli section is amazing with spices, dates, olives, meats...... The choices of products is mind blowing - far too much to choose from and of course brands with which we are not familiar. Stores open until midnight.

Dinner at a restaurant chain we have visited before - Paul - good service, good food - but not cheap. A steak sandwich and a prawn salad and two coffees - AUD$60). Glad we will be getting on the ship shortly and it is all inclusive !!

Back to the hotel with our purchases and into bed at 8:30pm.

Tue 23 Apr 19 - Dubai

Both of us have slept well - I got through to about 5am and Roz to 6 am so we have both had 7-8 hours of reasonable sleep. Given we are 6 hours behind Brisbane and we effectively slept in to 11am, that's not too bad. The bed is good. Slow start - breakfast included in the tariff here at the hotel and then will see what the day brings. Only 31 degrees forecast for today - positively chilly - expect to see the locals in jackets and ear muffs !

Standard Ibis breakfast which was adequate for the purpose without being outstanding. But, as with most of these countries, they cannot get the toast right !! I know its a first world problem but trying to get a well toasted, browned piece of bread is almost impossible here, even though I passed it through the machine three times this morning.

I am loathe to change the setting on the toaster. The last time I did that at the Sheraton at Mall of the Emirates a few years ago, smoke rose in large lumps as the toast burned, even though I was watching it !! Much embarrassment - and mirth from onlookers.

A dash over to the Deira Mall for more forgotten supplies and then Mr Vijay's driver picked us up at the hotel at 1130am.

More mysterious chatting between Vijay and Roz - two coffees for me - and we were done and heading to Dubai Mall. We shared the van with a couple from Liverpool who were here for a week - "and a good time without the kids". They were dropped off at a copy bag place in the backstreets to buy not the real bags.

We renewed acquaintance with Dubai Mall and lunched at the California Pizza Cafe, one of our favourites. We keep going back there because they serve the delicious Thai Crunch Salad which is....crunchy ! So fresh and I can't resist it every time we go. Have been to a California Pizza Cafe in Hong Kong, Singapore, the Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall - and had the Thai Crunch salad every time !!

We planned to have coffee at the Hummingbird Cafe right next to the California Pizza Cafe. For those in the know, the Hummingbird Cafe chain is a legend for its super cakes. A trip to Dubai rarely goes by without us visiting a Hummingbird and pigging out on a coffee and cake combo. Sadly, the franchise must be getting too big because the one we visited at Dubai Mall was so much of a disappointment in the cake display, we had to walk away rather than sully the memory of past cake glories and indulgences.

By the time lunch was taken, it was after 3pm so hit the road by Metro for Deira. Again, so well patronised - standing room only. A kind gent took pity on the old lady and gave up his seat for her.

A stop off at the Deira Mall for a coffee to regenerate and to get a more comfortable pair of shoes for me. Have erred in the choice of shoes I brought from Brisbane so have had to buy on the road. Got a nice pair of Skechers.

The late lunch changed our plans for dinner so have just bought some fruit salad and fresh fruit to fill the less than empty spaces for tonight's dinner.

Back to the hotel by 7:30pm, ordered a glass of wine each from Room Service and now enjoying that before getting another early night. TV offers nothing - just BBC and CNN news channels in English - and there is only so much of these channels you can take.

Found the source of the early morning call to prayers from a large mosque just at the back of the hotel. Looked quite a picture in the early evening light.

It has not been as hot today - only just tipping the 30 degrees as forecast and everyone seems to be pretty comfortable.

Will start the suitcase repack tomorrow morning and take a cab from the hotel to the Cruise Terminal to join the ship around 11am.

For John - I managed 18,600 steps today - Roz with littler legs was 19,500. We have been galloping that is about 15km !!.

Wed 24 Apr 19 - Boarding Explorer of the Seas

0600 hrs - Another bright and sunny morning in Dubai - but still dusty in the air. I managed about 8 hours of broken sleep, Roz closer to 9 hours but same as me with frequent wake ups through the night.

Will pack up and get organised for a 11am departure from the hotel - we are only about 20 minutes from Port Rashid Cruise Terminal. Hopefully on board in time for lunch !!

We are sharing an internet package with someone on board. The price for the full package for one person onboard is insane (about USD$30 per day !!) but you can use up to 4 devices and this person advertised to take one device each and share the cost. Apparently, each device can work with a different password - so that is the system we are going to try for this cruise. The lady said she has used it before that way and it works.

The other criteria of course is how well the internet works at sea in this area. So my efforts to get online until we reach Athens on Friday 3 May might be tenuous. We can only try.

The changing landscape in Dubai continues to amaze. We were here in September last year and in that short time, we can see physical changes to the skyline and previously undeveloped areas. In our cities, it would be years before you noticed the changes but here, it is literally overnight. Where does the money come from !!??

The other aspect is the interesting architecture of the buildings and the (apparent) quality of build. Of course we do not know how good the construction actually is as we are not engineers or architects but the appearance and finishes that we see are fantastic. Very innovative in use of materials, shape, design and use of space. There are not huge swathes of green space as we would see in other cities - that is usually incorporated into the close building grounds. The temperatures are fierce and green plantings would not survive. So they make use of access pathways and water features. Good to see something different.

24 Apr 2019

9:25 pm

We are at sea on Explorer of the Seas !!

Departed on time at 8pm. A bit more movement in the ship than I thought there would be. Explorer of the Seas is 138,000 tonnes, the biggest we have been on but we can feel a bit of rocking and rolling as we are leaving port and getting out into the seaway.. Nothing too bad but we can feel it.

All went well this morning. slow start to the day and final pack up. Departed the hotel at 11am by hotel taxi (60 Dirham - about AUD$25) and arrived at Port Rashid Cruise Terminal. the terminal is relatively new and a vast improvement on the tin shed that was here in 2013 when we last caught a cruise ship from here. There was nobody waiting so we had plain sailing (pardon the pun) and were on board by 11:30am. The only catch was we had to wait until 1:30pm to get into our cabin so we spent the time having a coffee, a light lunch and a wander around the ship.

Finally into the cabin and a long wait for our luggage - only to get a phone call from security to tell us we are bad lads because we brought extension leads, power boards, a travel iron and a fruit knife on board !! Technically it is a no no on any cruise but this is the first time in 20 cruises that we have been pulled up for it. Put in a sob story about how far it was from the

power point at the desk to the bed to run my CPAP machine and they relented on the power boards and the extension leads - but we don't get the knife or the iron back until Southampton.

This caused a bit of a flurry because we did not get our bags until 5:45pm and we were booked into the Italian themed Giovanni restaurant at 6pm. Only 15 minutes late in the end and it did not matter as the specialty restaurants are not fully booked on the first night. In fact we booked it because they offer it at 1/2 price on the first night because of low patronage.

Our waiter, Luzy, from the Philippines was excellent and we have had the restaurant to make a note to put us on one of her tables when we go again with Peta and Paul Geisel on 9 May. Good dinner - we both had sole fish. Wine is not cheap at USD$40 for the cheaper bottles but we sacrificed our wallets and got our first bottles for the cruise ! Roz ended up with an Italian pinot grigio, which I am sure she has had before and I chose an Argentinian Malbec. Both turned out well and we look forward to the second use of the bottles at dinner tomorrow night.

Mr Wilfredo is our Cabin Steward - have not had a chance to chat to him yet but will do so tomorrow. Seems like a nice lad.

As you can see, the internet seems to be working out OK. We met Brenda after the life boat / safety drill and she provided a password for one device. It seems to be working but we are still close to port. Will wait to see if the connection continues once we are fully at sea. The speed is pretty good. Have uploaded a few photos and that process went quickly.

An ANZAC Dawn Service is scheduled in the pool area on Deck 11 tomorrow morning at 5:30am. sunrise is at 5:47am. There are Aussies everywhere so I expect there will be a good turn out.

The cabin appears spacious enough (bit late to do anything about that anyway !!) - we have a double sofa to watch TV by. Most cabins only have a single chair and one of us has to sit on the bed. A coolish breeze blowing outside as we are underway - feels very pleasant.

Will do more exploration of the ship and its facilities tomorrow. the sitting and bar areas seem to be a bit light on but perhaps we have just not found the nooks and crannies yet. the buffet restaurant presented very well at lunch with what appears to be a good and varied menu. Time will tell as the masses consume the victuals and the larder gets lighter !!

Finally unpacked - it is getting close to 10:00pm and time to have a shower and get to bed. Will see what tomorrow brings.

John - there is only so much walking you can do on the ship - only 8,600 steps today.

Thursday 25 April 2019


A restful day at sea (with more than a few to come !!).

The day started with a 5am rising to attend the ANZAC Sunrise service on the upper deck at 5:35am. Sunrise is due around 5:50am in this area. Less people were in attendance than I thought would be there but the numbers would have been in the order of a couple of hundred.

A really cool breeze was blowing across the deck and I was glad I took a jacket with me.

The service was hosted by the Cruise Director on the ship – a Brit – and he just about got everything right except he fell at the very last hurdle. The Order of Service was right but he must have had a brain fade. The Last Post was played well by a trumpeter from the band, the Ode was recited and then he farewelled everyone – “thanks for coming” – before the playing of Reveille. The poor trumpeter was standing his ground ready to play but everyone was on the move after being dismissed by the Cruise Director. Small issue but the symbology of the playing of Reveille to “raise the dead” was lost. Other than that, they did it well.

They don’t know how to make a good ANZAC biscuit either – but again we are grateful they have made the effort !!

The highlight of the service was the acknowledgement of one of the passengers – Len Mason. He is a 97 year old WWII veteran who is now only one of two left from his 2/2ndMachine Gun Battalion which saw service at El Alamein in Northern Africa and in Papua New Guinea. I managed to shake his hand – he is still very much “with it” and had a strong hand shake.

The rest of the day has been taken up with reading, resting and eating ! I suspect that will be the pattern for a few days to come although we will get more involved in activities on the ship’s program. We were both feeling a bit tired after the travel and are beginning the resting and recovery that is possible on cruises with days at sea.

The food so far has been very good. We have spoken with a few fellow travellers who have been on since Sydney (about 3 weeks) and they said the quality has been consistent in all of that time. Very good range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Have done some hand washing and strung up the elastic line on the balcony. Passing ships will have the benefit of socks, jocks, singlets and some shirts. The removal of our travel iron poses some difficulties about whether to continue rumpled and creased or to pay the pressing fees of about USD$3 per garment – USD$5.50 for washing and pressing. Could get a bit expensive !

At 4 pm in the evening of Day 2 at sea, we are travelling in a south easterly direction, just off the east coast of Oman having just passed Muscat in the Gulf of Oman. We are travelling at a steady 19 knots – about 35kph. Very comfortable sailing and no repeat of the movement we felt on departure from Dubai last night. It is somewhat overcast with a greyish sky but otherwise clear.

There is an advisory in the ship’s daily newsletter telling us that as we approach the Horn of Africa and entering the Gulf of Aden in a few days time, precautions against pirates will come into play including the darkening of the upper exposed decks at night.

On our last passage back in 2013 on Serenade of the Seas, the precautions included the practice of “Operation Safe Haven” where all passengers were gathered in the internal stairwells of the ship if an incident was imminent. On that occasion, we also had a group of British Royal Marines on board shortly after sailing from Dubai – no evidence of that yet on this sailing -but on that sailing, we did have a scare and after that, a Canadian frigate warship could be seen shadowing us for about 2 days until we were safely up into the Red Sea.

Five O’Clock Wine O’Clock is approaching – and we are getting ready for dinner. We will sample the main Sapphire Dining Room tonight and have booked a 6pm slot with a shared table.

10:00pm – Late update for the evening

Dinner was pleasant and the food good without being excellent. The portions on this ship appear to be a little larger than we normally get on ships. Have to watch that.

We take our clocks back one hour tonight as we move west – so we will now be 7 hours behind you.

My thoughts about when we will darken ship were wrong – it actually starts tonight and will continue until 28 April. All external deck lights and lights on balconies are turned off, all curtains must be drawn for the hours of darkness and we will be having an Operation Safe Haven drill tomorrow morning at 10:30am.

Small World story. Went to dinner in the main dining room which would probably have up to 500-600 diners in it. We are “happy to share” (as against asking for a table for two) and were lead to a table of six. It had a German couple and an Australian couple at the table. The chatting began, as it does and is why we choose to share.

The Australian couple, Gary and Lyn Lynch, came from The Gap. They live in Payne Road opposite Payne Road Primary School. Not the residential complex on Payne Road, I asked ? Yes they replied. Do you know friends of ours, John and Joy Bunker ? Oh yes, they live about 4 units down from us !!! What are the odds ??

To double that up, Gary went to Parade in Melbourne in his youth, 2 years behind our other friend John Waters. Gary did not know John but we are waiting to hear if John remembers him. Again, what are the odds ?

The evening show in the Palace Theatre was “A Tribute to Celine Dion with Tracey Shields”. A big voice and entertaining show. The onboard band backing her up was

amazing. While she affected a French Canadian accent during the show in character, she is actually a Brit lady from Coventry !

In all a restful day allowing us to slow down and catch up on sleep. The nanna nap mid afternoon did wonders.

Friday 26 April 2019

A pleasant but warm morning at sea with a mist that has persisted throughout the day obscuring the horizon.

Woke at about 5:50am (having gained an extra hours sleep due to turning back the clocks as we enter a new time zone). The darken ship routine is in place from 6pm to 6am each day so none of the habitual walkers were able to access the Promenade Deck on Deck 4 or the walking/jogging track on Deck 12 until after 6am.

However, eventually got on deck and walked for an hour managing about 6km and did a short gym session. Got to do something to stay ahead of the buffet !

On return to the cabin, Roz was up, dressed and ready to go to breakfast so a quick shower, dressed and we were up there by 7:30am. For the number of guests onboard (over 3000) the ship really does not feel crowded, even at meal times. There is always a table available somewhere.

The day was filled in with a future cruise presentation on the Alaskan cruises and a Trivia session in the morning. I scored a Royal Bingo T Shirt in the raffle at the cruise presentation – I am sure that will join the pile of painting T Shirts I don’t need any more ! Trivia is something we have come to late in our cruising history. We did about 17 cruises before we participated and now feel we missed out on a bunch of fun by not doing it. I think the top prize today was a Royal Caribbean bottle opener. We were not winners. Our team was a lady with her two young daughters of about 13 and 10. We all contributed !

While the trivia was on, the ship ran an Operation Safe Haven drill which essentially involved the Captain announcing the drill and all passengers were herded onto the centre parts of the ship, away from balconies and windows - no one was allowed on the open decks. No threat is anticipated but it is best we know what to do if an incident does occur and a pirate vessel does approach our ship.

Headed to the Windjammer buffet to secure a table and have a read / do crosswords until it was time for a light lunch. Mexican theme today.

Following lunch, the Rowan Atkinson movie “Johnny English Strikes Again” was showing in the main theatre. Good turn up and an hour and a half of our life that we will never recover was spent. Not a bad film – but definitely not a good one either.

A visit to the shops in the Promenade – the make up process are pretty good compared to Australia. Roz did a stock up on some items that saved us close to AUD$60 on what she would have paid at home.

Formal night tonight – oh joy !! What is interesting is watching what some people think they look good in ! If I had the courage, a few candid camera shots would give you entertainment for hours.

Five O’Clock Wine O’Clock in the cabin this afternoon sampling one of the two duty free Stoneleigh Sauv Blancs that we brought on board from Brisbane. Tres pleasant !

Dinner in Sapphire Dining Room again. This time our table companions were Tom and Sonya from Perth. Pleasant evening of chat.

Again feeling somewhat weary and as the main show is not on until 9pm, have decided against that and will do some reading.

Have had some difficulty with the blog. My editing end is missing large lumps of what I thought I had uploaded and there are no photos showing. Will try to delete what is there and upload a saved copy that I have. Hope it works OK.

John – 12700 steps for me, as at 8:30pm!! Doing better.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Another night of smooth sailing at a steady 19 knots. Very humid overnight and this morning on deck. Fine sunny day but that mist on the sea persists and we cannot see land on either side of us. We are approaching the Horn of Africa today and will turn north around Yemen and Aden toward the Red Sea sometime tonight, I would think. Our threat period of darkening ship ends tomorrow night when we are beyond Somalia.

On deck at 6am and did an hour on the Promenade Deck for about 6km. The walking track is pretty busy on this ship compared to other cruises we have been on. Our observation is that is is an older persons cruise with most older than Roz and I but a surprising number are obviously keeping up their home routines with the walking. Only the fanatics and show offs are jogging. With the internet working so well, I am even able to stream 4BC and 101.1 FM during the walk to keep up with news using my Bluetooth headphones. The marvels of modern technology.

Late breakfast at 9am and then to Trivia at 10am. A lively and entertaining session this morning with plenty of repartee and challenges to how the trivia question was stated. Lots of laughs - but not in the hunt for a win - again.

The afternoon movie was early at 12:15pm (most inconvenient lapping into the lunch period) - "Ladies in Black". We both thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It could have been a revised and updated version of the "They are a Weird Mob" for all the cliches and stereotyping, but it was a fresh look and we did enjoy it.

Late lunch in the buffet (Indian theme to day).

A nanna nap and a rest before heading to dinner tonight in the Main Dining Room.

A pleasant dinner with some people from the Gold Coast and a lady on her own who looked about 18 but said she was nearly 40 !! (I’ll have whatever she is having !). She is a snowmobile driver in the NSW snowfields and wants to work in the USA snowfields, making those half pipes the snow boarders use. Where was I when those jobs were being handed out ??!!

After dinner entertainment was a wash out. W went to the Star Lounge to listen to Aysy and the Explorer of the Seas Orchestra presenting music themed from “From Russia with Love”.

Orchestra – 10

Aysy – 2

She was a screecher and a light weight with her voice, unfortunately. We lasted about 5 songs and departed. We could have waited around and gone to a magic show later in the evening but that did not appeal.

Back to the cabin to read. And bed about 10pm.

Sunday 28 April 2019

Another beautiful morning at sea. Still smooth sailing and as at 9am, we have rounded the corner of Aden and are now heading north toward the Red Sea. We will be out of the pirate zone by about 7pm tonight.

Another gallop around the deck this morning – 6.6km in just over an hour. Enjoyable walking but it is like Bourke Street on the Promenade Deck.

Getting a feel for the size of the ship and feel we are sufficiently oriented that we head in the right direction when we walk out the cabin door. There are not many visual clues in the corridors until you get to an exit point and in the first few days, it was not uncommon to walk half the length of the ship before realising we were heading in the wrong direction.

Early breakfast on a Sunday always guarantees no crowds at the buffet !! Back to the cabin and Roz did some washing.

Missed out on our Trivia session this morning – got to that venue with only 15 minutes to spare – and could not get a seat. Had to find a quiet hole to have a mid morning coffee and have a read and do crosswords.

Early lunch and then to a movie – “Holmes and Watson”. There really is only so much of Will Ferrell that you can take, isn’t there ? As with most in the theatre, we really didn’t have much else to do and we stayed the duration but it was not one of the movies we would want to hire. Glad we did not pay to see it !

More reading this afternoon and we will be off to dinner in about an hour.

The show in the theatre tonight has a bit more promise – “Beatles Tribute – Beatles Celebration”. We will wait with interest.

The Captain has told us there is another large Royal Caribbean ship – Spectrum of the Seas - that we will meet in the Red Sea going the other way between 0530am and 0630 am tomorrow morning. We are 138,000 Tonnes – Spectrum is 168,000 Tonnes !! That should be worth a photo.

FYI – I am having problems uploading the Blog from time to time and have had to delete it behind the scenes and upload it again. Not sure if the photos are causing problems so I am not putting photos on the blog for the time being. I will try to do that when I have a more stable platform – it could be the ship’s internet playing games with us even though it appears to have been pretty reliable.

We are now into Day 5 without a port and have four more to do before we hit Athens on Friday. The passage of the Suez Canal should provide interest – we start that on 30 April at 11pm at night and clear the Canal into the Mediterranean at 3pm the following day.

The Canal is very narrow in some places and people line the edges of the canal to wave to the passengers. On our last visit, the Western side had gardens, greenery and villages. On the Eastern side, it was pretty much sand and guard posts. Be interesting to see if there has been any significant development in the last 6 years.

Nice dinner with two other couples – one lot from Newcastle and the other from Ferny Grove. Chatted for about two hours.

The Beatles concert was great ! the lads did not fool around with the arrangements and played them in the way we all remember them. A good rock and roll event – everyone was up on their feet clapping and dancing. Glad we went to it.

Late night for the old folks – after 10pm !! And have to be up early to see Spectrum of the Seas.

Monday 29 April 2019

Foggy morning to start the day. Out of bed early at 5:15am to see Spectrum of the Seas pass us by in the Red Sea.

The Captain has told us it will pass between 5:30am and 6:30am – and Lo ! And Behold !! Right on the button at 5:45am, Spectrum appeared out of the pre sunrise mist sailing down our Port side. It is a very slab sided vessel, obviously made for balconies. As it passed, three honks on the fog horn from them, and three right back at them from us. I think there were more people on deck than there were on ANZAC Day. It was worth getting out of bed for.

We have passed the pirate threat in the Gulf of Aden and the darken ship and movement on the exposed deck restrictions are now over. We are now well into the Red Sea, heading north.

I think my walking exercise routine on the hard decks may have brought on an injury to my right knee. Swollen and sore this morning and having difficulty rising from chairs and climbing stairs. Not a good time for it to start this early in the trip – too much to do !

Coffee taken in the near empty Promenade on Deck 5. There is a coffee shop – Café Promenade – which appears to be relatively well used. USD$4 for a long black and upwards from there for the other specialty coffees. If you don’t mind the onboard ship’s coffee, that is for free at the same venue. You can guess which one cheap charley Jim had ! A bit of Kindle, check emails, news and Whatsapps, some crossword and the pre breakfast session is done !

Latish breakfast at 9am and then on to an Enrichment Lecture in the main theatre. Presented by a retired American Humanities Emeritus Professor, his subject was “Suez vs Panama – The Winner ?”.

The good Professor must have been a cracker in his day putting students into a comatose state by the nature of his monotone, non stop delivery style. The subject matter was good with great graphics to support the lecture – but the way in which it was presented………… !! More than few walk outs during the session.

But we did enjoy the information being presented. He tended to concentrate and provide more detail on the Suez, but there was some balance. In his opinion, the Suez provided more economic and financial benefit than the Panama – somewhat subjective in his findings but interesting point of view.

We arrive at the Pilot Station at Port Tawfiq (southern end of the Canal) at about 11pm tomorrow night and commence a 14 - 16 hour passage which will end about 3pm at Port Said at the northern end on Wednesday 1 May.

Some reading and light lunch followed by the midday movie in the Palace Theatre. Today it was “When in Rome” – Josh DuHamel and Kristin Bell. Very light but not a bad yarn.

We are very impressed with the dedication Explorer has to keeping the Noro virus at bay. Many hand wash stations throughout the ship and daily exhortations from the Captain to “wash your hands”. At the entrance to the Windjammer buffet, there is usually a guitarist and an offsider doing a song and dance routine – and handing out hand wash. It does encourage people to sanitise before eating and we have seen too many cruise ships in recent times not doing that and just leaving it to guests to remember to do it.

Back to the cabin for a rest and more reading – those Kindles we bought are proving their weight in gold.

We have a booking in the Japanese restaurant tonight – Izumi. We have been on RCCL ships twice before and Izumi has been the restaurant we have most enjoyed. High quality, light food in a Japanese themed restaurant. It is a la carte so we can have as little or as much as we want !!

Update. Dinner in Izumi was as we remembered it. Roz & I must have some Asian genes because we really do like our Asian food and Izumi did not let us down. Well presented, light and good service. We will be going back with Peta and Paul next week.

Tuesday 30 April 2019

Slightly cooler overnight. The hint of a cooler breeze as we travel further north in the Red Sea toward the Suez Canal. The forecast in Athens where we will arrive on Friday is 13 – 23 degrees and partly sunny – so that is a significant difference to the humid and 30+ temperatures we have had so far.

The internet connection is having some problems in this neck of the woods. Obviously it is a coverage issue as the TV satellite is also coming in and out with disrupted programs.

Another enrichment lecture this morning with the same Professor – “Athens (Piraeus): Why Greece will always Win”. Hope he has worked on his delivery overnight.

Disaster - no afternoon movie shown in the schedule today. I am sure there will be rebellion in the corridors, the Captain’s breakfast table will be stormed and the pirates will be hired for the day to get the Entertainment Department back on track and feed us the mindless movie titles that we all crave and deserve. The alternative is an after lunch nanna nap which I am sure some passengers are afraid they will not wake up from !!

Having said that, at dinner the other night, some people who have been on since Sydney said there were ambulances on the wharf in Singapore and Dubai taking people away. Not sure if the departure was terminal but given the age of a lot of the people we are seeing, it is not surprising that some are not making it to the end of the voyage !

Another worrying factor is the emergence of Cruiser’s Cough. The theatre at the movie and the lecture was full of coughers. We moved to sit elsewhere when one of the inconsiderate persons sat behind us. On most cruises, it is quiet for a while and then there is an outbreak of a dry cough epidemic. I am sure it is associated with the air conditioning and, due to the heat on the open decks, most people are staying inside and feeding the beast ! Hope we survive.

For those of you who have been unable to eat or sleep since I told you I had a sore knee, you will be pleased to know it has improved and the wheelchair Roz had on standby has been cancelled. I am disappointed there were not more well wishes and messages of condolence – but I can handle the indifference. I will continue to take it easy until the swelling subsides but it is frustrating not being able to do the morning exercise on the deck – it is such a good time of day.

Lecture is over – again interesting subject and fact but method of delivery is difficult to listen to. Tomorrow’s subject is Malta. We will be interested in hearing the history and information he has.

Lunch – met two avid travelling ladies from Point Cook in Victoria and sat and chatted for about 2 hours.

Some reading and TV before heading to dinner with two couples – from Kiama in NSW, Kerry and Graham, and Cathy and Wayne from Maroochydore and New Zealand. Again a couple of hours of chatting at the table.

Evening entertainment did not entice us so back to the cabin and into bed by about 10pm.

Passage of the Suez Canal tomorrow.

Still having problems uploading photos and text. I had it all set up this afternoon and have lost the lot so have only uploaded text for tonight

11pm – we arrived at the Pilot Station at Port Tawfiq on the southern end of the Suez Canal and came to a stop. Apparently this is when they organise the timing and the number of ships that will pass in convoy to the north. We got underway around 4am for the passage and our ship was the lead vessel

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Wednesday 1 May 2019

Got up around 5am for a drover’s breakfast – a coffee, a scratch and a look around. Not much to see until first light came about 5:45am and even then it was still distant shores with twinkling lights. The Canal does not narrow significantly until after the Bitter Lakes.

It is definitely getting cooler. People were rugged up on the exposed deck areas and there was quite a breeze blowing..

However, on reaching the areas where only one ship can sail in one direction, the shore was no more than 50-75 metres on either side. We were told the depth is around 22 metres (75 feet) deep. As our ship only draws 8.8 metres, we have plenty under the keel to get us through.

Breakfast at 8am in the buffet – sat at the back so we could see both sides of the Canal passing us by.

There has been a significant amount of development on either side of the Canal since our last passage 6 years ago. This is particularly evident on the Sinai side with many more settlements and ongoing construction to the bank areas for the length of the Canal. The Egyptian side is still the more commercialised and with much more population and the Sinai side still looks like a desert. But they have been busy little bees.

The ships move very slowly at about 5 knots so that they do not cause erosion to the banks of the Canal – so the passage is leisurely with plenty of time to sight see.

We reached the northern end of the Canal at 3:30pm at Port Said and are now in the Mediterranean Sea heading for Athens where we will arrive on Friday morning.

While this was going on, we attended an enrichment lecture on Malta given by our favourite sleep inducing Professor. The subject matter was again interesting but he did tend to focus on the Knights of St John and the Templars. It was only toward the end when he gave us an orientation in relation to the location of the significant forts and Museums.

Light lunch and then the afternoon movie. A Woody Allen creation – “Vicky Christina Barcelona” – much better than the juvenile “Holmes and Watson”. Enjoyable plot but in typical Woody Allen style, unfinished and left us all hanging about what happens next ……??

A reprise of the Beatles concert in the Promenade by popular demand. They certainly did a good concert the other night and were being well received by the crowd this afternoon, although the acoustics in the Promenade were not good.

Dinner with a couple from Perth – Tom & Sonja – who we have dined with one other evening. Pleasant chat.

Production show tonight was “Wild Cool & Swinging” with the Explorer of the Seas singers and dancers. The lead male singers were very good. One of the two lady singers was good. The dancers did a good job. Costumes very good.

Now well into the Mediterranean and still smooth sailing. Slight amount of movement as we are out in the open sea but nothing to worry about. Definite cool breeze outside but some of it may be the forward movement of the ship. Be interesting to see how cool it gets when we go ashore in Athens on Friday.

Miss Sophie’s 13th birthday tomorrow !! Where does the time go ?

Thursday 2 May 2019

We leave the cabin door open at night to get fresh air in while we are sleeping and there was a constant cool breeze blowing throughout. Smooth sailing – the Mediterranean is like a mill pond.

The power of drinking more red wine at dinner seems to have resulted in the miracle of rested and repaired knee !! Tried it out this morning – at a slower pace – but walked for close to an hour and covered 5km and there appears to be no after effects from that. Thank goodness – it was not the time to blow a track that early in the holiday.

Beautiful, cool morning at sea and clear for once. Finally got a good sunrise shot.

Early breakfast then to a port lecture on Athens. Not a lot of new information as we have dropped in for day visits on cruises twice before. We did the historical and landmark visits those last times so trying something different this time – a Greek food tour. The tour is called “Food around Athens” and is hosted by Rachel.

Some more reading and a morning coffee and then to the midday movie (one of us anyway !) to see “The Jason Bourne Identity”. Best movie so far - even though I have seen it half a dozen times – always good.

Got ready for dinner and decided to use one of the bonuses we were given on board for being Platinum Members with Royal Caribbean. A whole “buy one – get one free” for a wine, beer or spirits. Went looking for a quiet bar to enjoy the predinner drink and, for a ship this size, bars and seating are sadly lacking. Ended up in the Casino where the bar was very quiet with lots of seats available. Had our requisite “one white, one red wine please” at just USD$12 for the two.

Dinner again in the Sapphire Dining Room at a table for six. One couple from the northern suburbs of Sydney, Jenny and Richard ,and the other a couple from Christchurch in New Zealand, Fay and Lindsay.

Recorded for posterity when we go looking for it down the track, Fay and Lindsay Spedding run a two room B&B – Finlay Banks Boutique B&B, 7 Banks Avenue, Burwood, Christchurch 8061 – www.finalybanks.co.nz

Another good long chat over a leisurely dinner.

Evening entertainment a ventriloquist who was amusing and skilful in his trade.

Red letter day – Miss Sophie became a teenager today - her 13<sup style="font-family: Helvetica, sans-serif;">th birthday !! We managed to connect on video to her after school. She looks so well and it was great being able to connect and chat to her today.

Off to bed shortly for the earlyish departure to be at Monastiraki Square by 10am tomorrow morning. We intend using the Metro which runs directly from Pireaus to the Square. The only issue will be how far from the Metro Station we will dock. We hope it will be the closer dock that we used on our first visit to Athens – then the Metro is in walking distance (although we will have to keep an eye open for the pot hole that Roz fell into on that occasion and hurt her hip !). On the second occasion, the ship parked at one of the far docks about 3km from the Metro. Hope there is a shuttle bus.

Friday 3 May 2019

There was no shuttle bus – but what a fantastic day in Athens.

The ship docked at E12 – Cruise Terminal B – Thermistocles. It was about as far from the Metro as they could have parked it – some 3.7km away !! We arrived early at 5:30am and hardly felt the docking other than a few shudders as the thrusters were doing their job.

A cool 15 degrees to start the day and a beautiful sunrise to blue, clear skies.

A light breakfast (knowing we are going on a food tour) and off the ship at 8:30am. A 500 metre walk to the gate of Dock E12 and caught an 843 bus to Stop E4 opposite Piraeus Metro station – about 15 minutes.

A lot of construction going on around the station but we found it OK and took a 20 minute ride to Monastiraki Metro station.

At the bus terminal we were able to purchase an all day ticket (valid 24 hours from purchase) and able to be used on all buses and Metro trains – a whole Euro 4.50 each. A train every 6 minutes toward the City.

Who do our politicians at home think they are kidding when they talk crap about our “world class transport system” ??

On arrival at Monistiraki, we met our guide for the day – Rachel – who runs “Food Around Athens” tours.

Again, for the record and so that the contact details are not lost:

Food Around Athens


Phone: +306908765186

Mail: info@foodaroundathens.com

Site: www.foodaroundathens.com

We can honestly say this has been one of the most enjoyable day tours we have taken in the 22 cruises we have been on. I found the tour on the Trip Advisor website and followed the favourable comments before booking with Rachel – and we were not let down.

Rachel is a Brit lady who is married to a Greek, and has lived in Athens for the past 4 years. She is articulate, friendly and full of local information. We really did enjoy her company.

The pace of the tour, the places we visited and the commentary were great. She did not try to overwhelm us with a history lesson, rather she provided passing comment on the establishments, food and neighborhoods we were visiting.

Beginning with a mid morning heart starter coffee, we visited the flea and fresh food market area contiguous with Monastiraki Square and the Psirri neighbourhood, tasting delicious Greek food as we walked along. I have to say Roz did not pull her weight and I could not allow the food to go to waste so I valiantly battled on and have suffered in the battle for the waist. No dinner tonight !!

The meat, fish and vegetable markets were crowded and full of vibrant sights and smells. We tried meat, bakery, savoury, fruit, sweet, and a red rose wine. Even a prosciutto made of camel meat. All good.

Rachel indicated that her husband runs a tour to Cape Sounion which has the ancient Greek Temple of Poseidon. Next time !!

The weather for the day could not have been better – reaching about 24 degrees in mid afternoon and remaining pleasantly cool in the low 20s through the morning. Blue skies all day.

So in all, a great day out and we would recommend Food Around Athens for anyone looking for a different tour in Athens.

All the reverse getting back to the ship – Metro then bus – and back on board by 4:30pm.

We were due to get underway at 6pm but there has been a delay for some reason. Still waiting at 6:30pm. Finally underway at 7pm. Brilliant sunset in a clear sky tonight.

No dinner in the main dining room – just a light snack in the Windjammer buffet. Seems like a lot of people have made that decision tonight.

We lose another hour tonight as we sail further west toward Malta. So we will be 8 hours behind Brisbane from tomorrow – and we still have another 2 hours to lose before we reach Southampton. Some long nights ahead !

A day at sea tomorrow (Saturday) and then Malta on Sunday. Might be a quiet day there if stores are closed. Can only wait and see.

John – we can report steps today as we have been ashore. A tad over 14,000 achieved, which apparently equates to about 10.8km.

Saturday 4 May 2019

Smooth sailing at a steady 15 knots but a cold breeze blowing – so much so, we had to close the cabin door to the balcony at about 1:30am.

Cold, bleak, cloudy start to the day at 5:30am. Walking on the Promenade Deck on Deck 4 however provides overhead protection and the deck is wide enough not to have to walk on the edge. The jogging track on Deck 12 is only two lanes, one for walkers, one for joggers and it is open to the elements. I prefer the Promenade as it provides shade.

An hour of walking – 6.2km. And a coffee at Café Promenade at the end to warm up. There was a chill wind blowing over the deck and a few spots of rain. The rain increased through the morning – much to the disappointment of all of the sun worshippers who lounge around the pool all day in fine weather.

Late breakfast at 9am and then to a port lecture on both Valetta in Malta and Barcelona. A bit of reading and watching a documentary on Vietnam - a daughter finding the crash site in Cambodia of her USAF father who died on a bomb run over the Ho Chi Minh Trail in 1972. Emotional TV.

Very light lunch and then to the afternoon movie. BUT – would you believe, they put the same Jason Bourne Identity movie on again !!?? They only played it a couple of days ago. Sh*t-o-gram coming up !!

3:30pm here and the seas are getting up, as they say. For the first time in the 10 days since Dubai, we are getting a bit of rocking and rolling going. White caps on the seas and the Captain says we are running 3-4 metre waves, and we are getting the odd bump as the bow hits a larger wave. Cold and bleak outside. Everyone is battened down inside the ship with only a few brave souls outside.

I have revised the blog presentation by creating a separate “Photos Ony…” blog in an attempt to circumvent the uploading problem I have been having. I have sent an email to those who expressed interest in seeing the blog.

Formal night tonight – again !! Not many (including me) make the full effort these days. Some wear the full dinner suit, a few suits but most just go a long sleeve shirt and a tie. A lot of the ladies do better than the men though and they do look nice for the effort they have taken.

Half a lobster tail on offer at dinner for the first time in this sector of the cruise !! The Assistant Waiter blotted his copy book tonight and served Roz warm white wine - clearly the bottle had not been put in the refrigerator – mortal sin !! Having been castigated, a glass of ice finally appeared and the bottle was put on ice.

The after dinner entertainment show in the theatre tonight was “William Hick’s Soul Satisfaction” - a four man Motown tribute group. They were excellent and put on a show that everyone knew the words to. William was a large lad but had a very good voice, as did each of this group. Had the whole place up and dancing to the music.

Very noticeable movement in the water tonight with reasonable rolling – but not much pitching (thank goodness). People are having to watch their step and having to hang on to the nearest fixed point. We should be rocked to sleep though.

The sail into the Grand Harbour in Malta will be around 6am tomorrow morning. Hope it is a good day (22 forecast and sunny – but with wind) so that the appropriate photos can be taken. Getting a ship this size into the harbour and then doing a 180 degree turn on its own axis using thrusters, without tug, is worth the experience. This ship is much bigger than the last one we did it on, so looking forward to it.

John – managed 10,945 steps today.

Sunday 5 May 2019

An unsettled night at sea with frequent thumps and bumps as larger waves hit the hull and some rolling. Nothing too disturbing but we certainly knew we were underway in heavier seas. Had to keep the cabin door closed as there was a strong wind howling outside and it was an icy blast.

Woke at 5:30am to watch the entry to the Grand Harbour. The seas were certainly up and a very strong wind was blowing. The ship was making a beeline for the harbour entrance when the pilot boarded about a kilometre off shore. Shortly after the ship veered away from a direct entry and ran parallel to the coast. We all thought it was going to be too rough and windy for the Captain to get a ship this size through the narrow entrance and that we would miss the port.

That happened in North Queensland on this voyage when the ship was due to stop in Airlie Beach. Conditions were too rough and they had to bypass the port. A lot of Americans had joined this cruise specifically to visit the Barrier Reef from Airlie Beach – much unhappiness apparently !

I was talking to a bloke who ended up revealing he was a Navy Captain who had recently commanded one of HMA ships and saying that he drove ships for a living. He said he would be very worried trying to get the ship this size through the entrance because of the amount of wind applying pressure to the side of the ship.

However, the ship ended up doing a very neat S turn approach and threaded the needle – what were we worried about !!?? Obviously the big bucks they pay the Pilot and the Captain were well earned.

Once inside the breakwater, it was as calm as a millpond and the surrounding land blocked the wind. The ship stopped, applied its thrusters and did a full 180 degree turn and then put itself alongside, totally without tug assistance. Magic !

The day promised to be fine – 22 degrees – which we achieved. No rain but the wind was relentless all day and it was particularly cold in alleyways and wind tunnels. Most of us rugged up in long trousers and a jacket. It did get warm though standing in direct sunlight.

The entrance into the Grand Harbour in Malta is an experience in itself. The grandeur of the buildings that are terraced up the side of the cliffs really takes your breath away – and we were fortunate that the sun was just rising as we were sailing in and the sunlight fell perfectly on the buildings. Considering Malta received an absolute pounding from German and Italian aircraft during WWII, it is a credit to the Maltese that they have restored the place as well as they have.

There was one other large cruise ship in so there were probably in the order of 5000 – 6000 passengers ready to hit the city lights – but there weren’t any !! It is Sunday and most shops and businesses were closed. Cafes and restaurants did a roaring trade as people stretched their legs on land.

Two restaurant offerings, in particular, struck us as “interesting“. The first was Fried Rabbit with salad and chips and the other was a Horsemeat Burger with chips. A number of the restaurants were offering these items so they are obviously part of the Maltese cuisine. We did not see too many takers.

We had taken the standard ship’s tour on our last visit 4 or 5 years ago and we saw the highlights of Valetta and Mdina. This time, we tried something different by catching a water taxi across the harbour (Euro 2 per person one way) to an area known as the Three Cities. This is a community made up of three small suburbs – Senglea, Vittoriosa and Cospicua. Mostly residential but having harbourside businesses and a large Marina full of VERY expensive pleasure boats.

We managed to visit two of the suburbs – Cospicua and Vittoriosa. Senglea was a walk too far. At the tip of Vittoriosa, there is Fort St Angelo which we entered (Euro 5 for a Senior – Euro 13 for the others !!). The fort had its beginnings back in the 1200s and was developed by many nations over the years. It became a substantial fortification in the 1500s under the Turks. Britain got hold of Malta and occupied the fort in the 1800s and remained there until the 1970s when it was returned to the Maltese Government.

The balance of the time in the Three Cities was taken up walking the streets looking at the residential homes / apartments and closed businesses. Instructive but we ran out of puff looking for points of interest.

Around 1230pm we decided to return to the water taxi and go back over to Valetta and reacquaint ourselves with that side.

There is a elevator to lift people from the harbour level up to street level in Valetta – Euro 1. The down ride is free. The alternative is to walk up an incline for about 25 minutes, catch a cab or pay a horse and cart dude Euro 60 for an hour of sightseeing and get dropped at the top. The Euro 1 option and lift won the day.

The balance of the afternoon was spent walking the streets among the Sunday afternoon crowds of locals and cruisers. Had lunch at a kebab place and indulged in coffee and a hazelnut tart in a nearby deli / café.

Getting back on the ship was infinitely harder than leaving it. With more than 5000 cruisers all trying to get back on their respective ships by the due sailing time (4pm for Explorer), a conga line extended a good 500 metres down the street at the entrance to the dockyards as we were checked for legitimacy as passengers.

Having got through that bottleneck, we spent more time in line getting on board our ships as again our sea cards were checked and our bags were X-rayed for contraband goods. Joining the line outside the dockyard to boarding the ship took over an hour. Good thing we started early enough and we were back on board by just after 3pm. An announcement has just been made looking for 4 passengers who have avoided the check in line or are still adrift. It is perhaps the latter as we are still tied up alongside at 4pm.

A pleasant sightseeing day out only made unpleasant by the constant wind.

The Captain has just come on the PA and indicated we are in for an uncomfortable night and day at sea tomorrow. Rain and winds in excess of 50 knots and a sea state of 6-7 metres. He advised those who had problems with motion sickness that now is the time to start popping the pills ! The day is not going to improve until after 6pm tomorrow, he said. Batten down the hatches !!

Underway at 4:15pm – must have found the missing passengers – or they are buying an air ticket to Barcelona !!

Outside the breakwater now and we can immediately feel the effects of the wind and the higher seas. The rolling has begun – only gentle but it is there.

John – as at 5:30pm – 17,300 steps today

After the day out did not feel the need to go to the formal dining room for dinner so just hit the buffet and had a lamb roast. The meat was nice but they do not get the baked veges right. I guess it is hard to have hot, crisp veges when you are cooking for so many. In true American style, we do not see any pumpkin or cooked hot peas on the menu so the baked spud, baked pumpkin and peas for a traditional lamb roast is sorely missed. Tom would be unhappy !!

The show in the theatre was called “Fast Forward” – described as” An energetic fast paced journey paying homage to the movie musicals of the 70s & 80s”.
Performed well by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers. They had a couple – Kseniia & Stanislay – joining them who are ballroom dancing champions apparently – and they were brilliant. They added a lot to the performance although the Dance troup is doing very well too. The Singers are a bit off the pace.

Back to the cabin just after 10pm for some reading and then lights out around 11pm.

Monday 6 May 2019

47 years of wedded bliss have arrived. Madame slept in and has had breakfast in bed – grain toast with Marmite (they have run out of Vegemite) and a coffee. How devoted
is that ??!! Dinner tonight in the Chops specialty restaurant to celebrate.

The motion in the ship has changed from rolling side to side to pitching end for end. We are heading due West toward Barcelona (maybe a few points WNW) directly into
the larger seas. This causes the ship to climb some of the bigger waves and then go bow down as it comes down the other side. In a ship this big, that motion is not extreme but people with mobility problems may be having some issues. Every now and gain we obviously hot a bigger wave and the shudder can be felt through the ship.

But it is not uncomfortable and is easy to cope with.

Roz not feeling absolutely flash. Not seasickness but the wind yesterday on the ears has taken its toll and she has a sore throat this morning. Hope that goes nowhere and she recovers soon.

Enrichment lecture by Dr Sendem 2 Sleep on Barcelona. I will still go to that as there is always something to learn.

Outrage in the corridors again !! We have a sea day and……… what ???? No afternoon movie – again !! I will be selling my shares in Royal Caribbean and insisting it is delisted from the stock market if they keep this up !!

Just a quiet day at sea with the ship slugging it out with 6-7 metre seas. We have had some big hits on the bow and you can feel the effect of that throughout the ship. Again, nothing to be worried about and there does not seem to be too many people having difficulty but we certainly have to be ready to react when moving around the ship. Captain has said we should have improved conditions from 6pm this evening (4pm now).

It is now 8pm. As promised, the waters have calmed considerably and the evening sky has cleared to an unblemished clear blue sky (or as blue as it gets in the northern
hemisphere). Quite pleasant sailing with only a few bumps now.

A nice anniversary dinner had in Chops restaurant. Three of the waiters brought out a small chocolate cake with one candle in it and sang “Happy Anniversary” to the tune of Happy Birthday. Nice of them.

Last day of this cruise when we pull up in Barcelona tomorrow morning and then we start the next one. We are fortunate enough to have kept the same cabin. Some people have had to change cabins on every leg since Sydney !!

We meet Peta and Paul in Barcelona tomorrow morning. They are staying at our favourite hotel – Citadines – right in the middle of La Ramblas and where we will be staying when we return at the end of our French trip at the end of May. They will have to check in for the cruise while we will be Transit Passengers and will be able to board without having to go through the check in procedure.

One of the good things about this sector, being regarded as a new cruise, is that we will be able to bring two more bottles of wine back on board. That will help us avoid the insane onboard process for wine. The price for a bottle of NZ Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is about AUD$80 and a bottle of Wirra Wirra Church Block Cabernet Sauvignon is near AUD$95. I am drinking a cheap Argentinean Malbec but even that is over AUD$60. And these are the absolute low mid range wines on board. Not sure who is drinking the rest !! Will have to find some cheap Spanish plonk for some in cabin 5 O’Clock Wine O’Clock sessions !!

We also have to sign up with our internet lady again tomorrow for a new internet package. Each sector needs a new login. But I do have to say the internet on this ship has been the fastest and most reliable with fewer dropouts than any ship we have been on. They must be getting something right with their technology. And the package we are using is unlimited.

Roz is feeling better than she did this morning but it sounds like a head cold is coming on – probably from the air conditioning. Perhaps the run of ports from Barcelona to

Valencia, Cartagena, Gibraltar in the next few days and some fresh air might help keep the symptoms under control.

John – not even going to give you ammunition to tell me how lazy we have been with the steps today. Will do a few more tomorrow when we go ashore though.

Tuesday 7 May 2019

The night at sea continued to be smooth sailing and there was no repeat of the heavy hits we had been having.

Docked in Barcelona right on time at 6am to a good looking dawn although clouds started to arrive in the early morning and that developed into light rain this afternoon.

Quick breakfast and off the ship using the complimentary shuttle bus to the World Trade Centre, near the bottom of La Ramblas and Columbus’ Column. A Rambla to Citadines hotel where Peta and Paul were staying. Paul was wandering the streets aimlessly, as he does, and happened to be outside when we arrived ! Peta arrived shortly after.

We went to our favourite Moca Café just up from Citadines for a coffee and then headed over to reacquaint ourselves with the market – La Bouqeria. It never fails to amaze with the colour, the fragrances and variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, flowers etc.

A drop into the Carrefour supermarket across from Citadines to stock up for the next leg of the journey and Peta and Paul had to head off to finish packing and then head for the ship.

Roz and I went looking for long sleeved T shirts for her – of course, every thing but ! A gallop into the Gothic Quarter to get oriented again and then into a deli / café for lunch.

We are back here in three weeks for three days so did not feel the need to do too much more today. We had to be back onboard by 4pm at the latest to attend the compulsory safety brief before sailing. Made it by 3:13pm.

Peta and Paul into their cabin and unpacking. All good !!

Ship delayed in departure from 5pm due to other ships moving in the harbour. Finally underway around 5.30pm.

Requisite safety brief undertaken by lining up on the deck at our Muster Stations near the lifeboats on Deck 4. Same as the brief you get every time you fly.

Dinner in Sapphire Restaurant with Peta and Paul. We indicated we were willing to share but we obviously had BO or something and no one else joined us.

Bit of a scare at dinner though. Roz is recorded as being allergic to mushrooms and the staff always ask at each meal if anyone is allergic to anything – which Roz declared. She chose a seafood soup which did not list any mushrooms – but as she got toward the bottom of the dish – guess what !!?? Two small mushroom slices were in the soup. She did not eat them and we had to let the staff and supervisor know that Roz had been served a dish with mushrooms. Much consternation and flapping (as there ought to be) with an offer of medical assistance if required. Thank goodness, nothing seems to have come of it but will watch and see.

After dinner show was an introduction to the entertainment we can expect with the Singers and Dancers, the ballroom dancing champions, the ship’s orchestra and an amazing couple who do did strength based demonstrations and balancing.

With Peta and Paul fading (and us too), time for bed. Smooth sailing in 1 metre seas (compared to the 6-7 metre seas last night.

John – 19,159 steps today !! A record I think !

Valencia is the port tomorrow. We have a tour that we booked privately with Luis. It will last about 3-4 hours and we will have a bit of free time in the city before getting back on board.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Wednesday 8 May 2019

Smooth sailing all night. Have not heard how big the waves were but would not be surprised if they were no more than 1 metre.

A bit foggy as we docked in Valencia and a bit of coolness – but otherwise fine. Docked just in front of us is Azamara Journey which Roz and I took from Singapore to Mumbai on a previous cruise. It is a neat little ship of only 30,000 tonnes (compared to Explorer at 138,000 tonnes) and 700 passengers (Explorer 3,100 passengers). We really enjoyed that cruise on that ship.

Early breakfast so that we got off on time at 9am to meet our guide for the day from Valencia Private Tours.

The day started out pretty cool with a wind blowing (about 15 degrees) but westerly winds arrived later in the morning and it became warmer through the day, rising to about 30 degrees.

For the record, we booked:

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Valencia Private Tours

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Sarah-Kate Redding (owner)

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">+34 686 685 860

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">kate@valenciaprivatetours.com

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">www.valenciaprivatetours.com

Kate was excellent to deal with on email and was very responsive in information and her responses. We only had to pay a 20%!d(MISSING)eposit when booking and then the balance on the day.

The guide we were allocated for the day was Luis who is a native Valencian and would be about 50. He was excellent and we could not have asked for a better experience. We travelled in a comfortable 8 seater van (for the 4 of us) with Luis doing the commentary.

The day took us from a vast beach area, to the Opera House and Science and Arts centre, to the middle of the city where we walked many small lanes and backstreets to the old university, the Cathedral, the Silk Exchange and the fresh food market.

Luis gave expert and detailed commentary from 9.30am to 2pm when we finally called it quits. He was ready to keep going but we had to stop for a sit down, a coffee and a bit of lunch.

We all really enjoyed Valencia (or what we saw of it) and would be happy to come back for a longer stay. There is a vibrancy about the city with plenty of activity on the street with many coffee shops and restaurants.

A lot of photos to upload – which may take some time.

Movement from the ship was by shuttle bus to the port entry terminal – about 10 minutes. We took a taxi from the centre of the City back to the terminal – about 20 minutes at a cost of Euro 8.25. (we could have caught a No.4 bus at Euro 1.50 each one way).

Formal night tonight – we are heading to Sapphire restaurant at 6pm and then to the Motown show at 9pm. The Motown show artists were on the last cruise and they promised a new show for this one.

John – only just over 10,000 steps today so far – given we were seated in a van all day.

Tried to book a later dining time but the earliest we could get was 5:45pm

Have just had a good dining experience sharing the table with two other couples and Peta and Paul – one older couple from Melbourne and the others from Sydney. Seated at the table at 5:45pm and have only just risen at 8pm.

The chatter did not stop ! And that is what cruising is all about. Meeting interesting people with a story about something. One made us jealous though telling is about a cruise for 27 days they did on Queen Elizabeth 2.

They booked a balcony but were faced with confusion and issues as they were boarding – the booking cabin number did not tally with the cabin they had been allocated on board. Very sad for them, they were upgraded to a Princess Suite, with butler and a private dining room for the entire voyage !! When is the Big Bird of Happiness going to fly our way !!??

Cartagena is the port tomorrow and apparently the ship berths a 10 minute walk from the centre of town. We have not booked anything so will go ashore and do our own thing, in our own time.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Thursday 9 May 2019 – Cartagena

Quiet smooth sailing overnight and into Cartagena at 06:30am this morning. A gentle docking as sunrise was approaching. Pleasantly warm at 21 degrees with a 23 maximum forecast.

Took our time getting off as we have not booked a tour for this city and the city centre is just 10 minutes walk from the ship.

On the move at 10:30am and an easy walk into the city. Found a coffee shop where a helpful waiter assisted us with coffees and a croissant. All only Euro 1.50 each.

The shopping / café / restaurant area consist of a number of spacious plazas connected by wide pedestrian walkways. The Europeans do plazas so well with retail shops and cafes surrounding the squares – always with footpath dining. Our guide yesterday told us that even famous chef’s restaurants failed if footpath dining was not provided.

Having started at the bottom of the long pedestrian walkways, the ladies headed off on their own to look at ladies stuff and Paul and I took a stroll to the end of the long street. Not much to actually see other than more shops but pleasant strolling the sunshine and watching the passing parade.

A helpful passing local stopped and had a chat, pointing outs some of the landmarks.

Met up with Roz and Peta and headed back to the ship via a roman amphitheatre and a ruined castle. Both were pretty underwhelming so did not pay the Euro 10 admission fee and did the Cheap Charlie thing looking over the fence.

Back on board by 2pm and had a light lunch. The ladies had a repo charge of energy and shopping frenzy and decided to head back into town for another hour or so. Paul and I decided to laze around onboard, not having seen any shops of interest.

Cartagena centre is quite small and the town is a major location of the Spanish Navy – evidenced by the number of warships tied up in port. Not sure we would make a beeline to come back here. Compared to Valencia, it is quite small.

The girls found the ship again before it left – we did not have to send out a search party. And there were no shopping bags attached – good deal !!

We departed on time at 5pm, getting under way so smoothly we did not even know we were moving.

Specialty dining night in Giovannis (Italian) tonight and another good meal had by all. We asked for the waiter we had last time - Luzy from the Philippines. She is so personable and provided such good service, it made the night so much more enjoyable.

A quick run up to the top deck to see the sun setting in the west – 9pm at night and still broad daylight !!

Gibraltar tomorrow. Paul and I, in particular, have been looking forward to this visit. We have booked a tour and have a couple from Tamworth and a Chinese couple from San Francisco joining us for a party of 8. Hope to be able to do a bit of a gallop around Gibraltar town after the tour. The forecast tomorrow is for 28 degrees.

The light is finally fading – now 9:20pm.

John – a mere 12,586 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Friday 10 May 2019

Smooth sailing – again !! We really have been fortunate with the weather – except for that one night coming into Barcelona when we had 6-7 metre waves.

A perfect start to the day. Dawn was at 7:12am and we were just arriving in the vicinity of Gibraltar and, as first light was making its presence felt, there was the Rock. Up close, it did not appear to be as imposing as it had from a distance when we last sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar – but it is still very impressive.

Met up with our party of eight – Peta & Paul, Jim & Ann Morris from Tamworth and Lorraine & Frank Lam from San Francisco in the Tavern bar and waited for the announcement that the gangplank was open. That came at about 8:15am and we were off the ship and meeting our guide for the day.

We had booked with John Lopez Gibraltar Rock Tours because of the good reviews they had on Trip Advisor. Our guide/driver for the day was Dillon, a native Gibraltarian. For the record:

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Gibraltar Rock Tours

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">John Lopez

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">+350 5759 7000

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Email: info@gibraltar-rock-tours.com

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Website: <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">www.gibraltar-rock-tours.com

The tour was Euro70 per person – and worth every cent. Started at 08:30am and finished 11:30am.

Again, we struck gold with our tour guide, the weather and what we were shown. Gibraltar is not very large – only about 5.5km long and 1.5km long and it has a population of about 32,000. So it id not take a long time to basically see all of Gibraltar. The temperatures ere a very comfortable 22 degrees and deep blue skies.

First attraction was the drive though town and over the airport runway which was constructed by the British in WWII. The main road from Spain into Gibraltar goes over the middle of the runway and the control tower puts up stop lights when a plane is landing or departing. They get about 5 flights a day and the airport only connects to London, nowhere else.

Apparently about 12,000 Spaniards enter Gibraltar each day for work and depart each night. That was evidenced at 8:30am by the long streams of traffic coming through the border point and many pedestrians.

Then to a point called the Pillars of Hercules which is at a point that overlooks the Straits of Gibraltar between Spain and Africa. The nearest point in Africa is only 24 km away. The strategic position of Gibraltar and the Rock was very clear. It absolutely dominates the Straits and any shipping passing by.

We had a glorious clear day for sightseeing. Low 20s, clear blue skies and low humidity. Dillon said it was one of the best clear days they had for some time. We had a clear view of the Rif and Atlas mountains in Africa.

The Pillars of Hercules is a monument showing on one side the Ancient World and its perception of the ends of the earth, which essentially was where the Mediterranean met the Atlantic Ocean (as we know it today). The other side shows the world post Columbus when he exited the Mediterranean and found the New World.

We then went to St Michael’s Cave with stalactites and stalagmites in it. The pathways and lighting were very well done and it provided a spectacular view of the underground passages. This was the first point we saw the Barbary Apes – which are obviously very used to humans. We were warned to keep hats, cameras and anything hanging off us close to the body as they have been known to take them. The shop owner at the entrance said one of them had come in to the shop and pinched two ice creams in recent days.

A drive to the highest point on the Rock which gave incredible views of both the Mediterranean and the Straits of Gibraltar. Apes everywhere up there and watch out for the ape droppings !! There is also evidence of the British military on all of the high points with fences, buildings, radars etc.

Then to the Great Siege Tunnels where the British have tunnelled 53km of passages throughout the rock over the years. The defences pointed both out to sea and toward Spain with gun positions and holes in the side of the Rock to allow observation, ventilation and firing points. Many of those defences were from early times when old muzzle loaders were used. There was not much evidence of modern defensive systems and the tunnels have become more of a tourist attraction that practical defence positions.

Following the tunnels we went though more vehicle tunnels to the southern side of the Rock where we visited the 100 ton gun position which sported a 17.7 inch bore to the gun. That is big – battleships fired 16 and 18 inch guns – so this one is up there with them. Again, this was more of a deterrent than anything and it was never fired in anger. But it is a huge weapon that took 35 men to operate it, firing a solid shot that would put a whole in your day if it hit you !!

A visit to Europa Point where the lighthouse that has been operating since the 1840s is located and is important to ship’s navigation through the Straits of Gibraltar.

There were three very nice beach areas and holiday accommodation units are located on Catalan Bay on the road back into the city. Then back into the city centre to the City Square. That ended the 3 hour tour that was very well done from start to finish.

The Square, even on a Friday, was a hive of activity of shops, cafes and restaurants. We partook of coffee and a light lunch in one of the cafes. The level of noise created mainly by local ladies, speaking VERY loudly in Spanish, was difficult to cope with. We could not hear ourselves talking to each other. But the coffee and the baguettes were good.

A gentle stroll through a long Main Street with small shops left and right for about 500 metres. Have never seen so many jewelry and grog shops in such a short stretch. Gibraltar gets over 12 million visitors a year and you have to think the jewelers and alcohol sellers are serving that market. Alcohol was cheap with a large bottle of dark rum, for example, selling for about AUD$10.

By the time we walked the street and got back to the Square, it was time to make our way back to the ship which was only about 20 minutes’ walk away. Arrived back there about 3:15pm – the ship was due to sail at 4pm. Good timing.

The ship was actually delayed as there were about 6 passengers adrift on one of the tours. 4:15pm came and a minibus was seen tracing up to the terminal. The latecomers were given a rousing cheer from everyone hanging over their balconies as they ran to the gangplank.

Finally underway at 4:30pm and headed for the Straits of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. The Captain advised we could expect 3 metre seas as we transited from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

A sea day tomorrow and arriving in Gijon on the northern coast of Spain on Sunday morning.

5 O’Clock Wine O’Clock in our cabin tonight with Peta and Paul to settle the dust from the day and then dinner in the main Sapphire Restaurant at 6pm.

Dinner in the main Sapphire dining room. Pleasant company with Frank – who managed Coles supermarkets for 40 years in Sydney and regional NSW.

Decided not to do the show tonight – the singers and Dancers were doing a concert but it did not look flash so a bit of reading was the go and if there is decent movie on, we can try that.

Still not clear of the south of Spain / Portugal so we have not entered the Atlantic Ocean proper, yet. Expect seas might be a little larger when we turn right and head north. Time will tell.

John – 12,572 steps today - coincidentally almost the same as yesterday !!

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Saturday 11 May 2019 – At Sea

A gentle roll developed through the night making it good for sleeping. As the Captain promised, waves of only 3 metres barely made an impression on the ship and it has been plain sailing all day. There is however a cold biting wind if you venture out on the open decks. Some of the planned activities have been moved inside as it was too cold outside.

Not a lot to report today – just a quiet recuperating day at sea. Latish breakfast followed by a port lecture on Gijon, Spain and on our final port of call, Southampton.

The cruise is rapidly coming to an end. We arrive in Southampton early on Tuesday 14 May. Tomorrow will be the half way mark of the holiday – 3 weeks after we left on 22 April. Where does the time get to ??!!

Met a nice couple from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand over a coffee and chatted for about an hour.

Drinks in Peta and Paul’s cabin this afternoon and then the final formal night (thank the Lord) of the cruise. We changed one of our specialty restaurant bookings actually as the menu in the main dining room included a half lobster. The lobster is only served once each cruise and Roz likes it so we have made a change. I prefer the Lamb Roghan Josh curry that will be on !

Gijon does not seem to offer a lot, particularly as we are there on a Sunday and most outlets will be closed. To make it worse, we don’t arrive until 11am and we sail at 8pm. Good luck finding somewhere to eat on a Sunday night in a Spanish town !! We think we will just take a taxi into town (6km from the port) and have a gallop around the town centre – hopefully find a cafe open where we can have a coffee and a sticky bun and see some of the sights.

Dinner and the show over. Dinner was good the lamb roghan josh was very good (backed up for seconds – no dessert tonight) and Roz said the lobster was good too. Would have been good if he brought his big brother to dinner as well though.

Met a nice couple from Sunbury area in Victoria. She was nurse in an aged care facility and he was a security officer at Melbourne airport. They have been on since Sydney.

Went to the “Hector is Magic” show tonight. While the tricks he did were good, the patter and the theatrics were a bit lame.

Very cool breeze coming through the cabin door – reduced the opening to a crack and we can still feel the flow of cold air. Smooth sailing though.

John – have only managed 6,000 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Sunday 12 May 2019 – Gijon

Mother’s Day – in Australia. All three of those who have a mother in our family rang to say “Happy Mum’s Day” to Roz !! Nice to see and hear from everyone.

Gentle sailing with a few rolling motions through the night. We were sailing up the western coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean so we presumed seas might be a bit rougher but it was not too bad.

The sun is setting late in the evenings – toward 10pm and rises late, around 7am. Funny to have dinner, go to a show and still have bright sunlight !

Gijon is a town on the northern sea border of Spain. Our expectations for Gijon were not high and we were not disappointed ! It is a very industrial looking town that had little to make it look pretty. Virtually no trees or flowers in the centre of town. Sharp, angular stone and brick buildings and a mixture of paving, cobblestones and bitumen on the roads.

The city fathers have not done much to make the place attractive for locals let alone blow ins like us. Add the fact we were visiting on a Sunday and virtually all the shops and attractions were closed, there was not a lot to keep us in there for a long time. The cafes and pubs were doing a roaring trade though.

From the moment we arrived, there was a biting cold wind blowing and we had to rug up more than we have anywhere else. That made walking around the city uncomfortable. Only mugs like us took a walk along the fortifications on a hill overlooking the bay and almost got blown off it with the force of the wind. But we have been there and done that.

We sought shelter in a corner store / cafe where we had a very good coffee and a sticky bun for afternoon tea. But once that was completed, we decided it was time to return to the ship.

The locals must have chipped in because we got a complimentary bus shuttle service into the city about 20 minutes away. We should have taken advice when we went down to the bus to go into town – it was only one hour after we had arrived in port and already there was a busload of people off the ship coming back !! They had obviously made a quick decision and decided to give it a miss. We lasted about 3 hours.

We all agreed we were unlikely to spend tourist dollars returning to Gijon.

The ship does not sail until 8pm tonight, we have a day at sea tomorrow and then its all over Red Rover as we arrive in Southampton early on Tuesday morning our time (about 2pm Brisbane time.).

Standard dinner in the main dining room tonight and then a rerun of a show we saw on the last cruise (Dubai/Barcelona).

Now after dinner – 9:15pm. Still broad daylight and at sea. We sailed at 8pm and we are now into the Bay of Biscay. And we are feeling the difference. Much unsteadiness of feet and rolling in the much larger waves. We have not had a report on the size of the waves but they are approaching those we had coming into Barcelona at 6-7 metres. Could be a bouncy night !!

Dinner was pleasant – no one allocated to our table so we had free rein conversation between the four of us. Mr Ajay from India and Mr Auang from Myanmar were our waiters as they have been for the past three nights. They have looked after us well.

We went to the Fast Forward show in the Palace Theatre and, if anything, the Singers and Dancers have improved since the last time we saw it. Good show !

Pack up time tomorrow – we will have to have our large bags out in the corridor by this time tomorrow night for departure on Tuesday.

John – 9081 steps today.

Monday 13 May 2019 – at Sea

All over bar the shouting !! Today is our last day on the ship before disembarkation in Southampton tomorrow morning and we are at sea crossing the Bay of Biscay.

The roughish weather we had just out of Gijon settled down overnight and it has been plain sailing all day. A brilliant sunrise and blue skies all day. But that biting cold wind has persisted on the open decks and it has been impossible to leave the balcony door open.

Forecast tomorrow morning on arrival in Southampton is 6-16 degrees. Chilly.

Both Roz and I have succumbed to a runny nose, dry cough and clogged sinuses in the past few days. We thought we were going to get away with it but the lurgy has caught up with us after 3 weeks in air conditioning.

A latish breakfast being at sea and then an appointment with British Immigration officials. We got our passports back from the ship’s staff and then did a face to face interview with just two immigration staff. 3000 passengers - divide by two for couples = 1500. Multiply by 3 minutes each couple = 4500 minutes = 75 man hours / 2 = 37.5 man hours from each official. And they wonder why the queues were so long !!

Anyway, job over and we have our stamp in our passport even though we will only be in the UK for 24 hours.

We have spent the afternoon packing our bags as the large bags have to be in the corridors for collection after dinner tonight. They store them all in the hold and then deliver them to the terminal on arrival where we will be reunited with them.

Final celebration dinner tonight in the steak restaurant – Chops – with Pta and Paul. It is Paul’s birthday on Wednesday so we will have the dinner with them tonight as the last opportunity. On arrival in Southampton, they hire a car and head into the UK for about 10 days

On our arrival in Southampton at 5:30am, we should be off by about 8am. I have booked a transfer to Portsmouth where we will overnight in a hotel before taking a Brittany Ferry – Normandie Express – to Cherbourg at 9am. The crossing takes about 3 hours.

On arrival in Cherbourg, we pick up a hire car and travel south to our first overnight AirBnB at Huisnes-sur-Mer near the famous Mont St Michel, a distance of about 200km.

We spend another two nights on the road staying at AirBnb places before arriving on Saturday at Sarlat la Caneda in the Dordoigne, where we will stay for 7 days.

Unfortunately, the excellent unlimited wifi service we have had on the ship comes to a halt as we disembark tomorrow morning and it then becomes catch as catch can in cafes and at the AirBnbs. So we will not be immediately contactable as we have been.

Please leave messages on Whatsapp or email and we will check at the next opportunity. Also not sure of the speed or quality so the Blog may suffer upload problems. Please be patient, if you want to continue to follow, and I will upload as often as I can. Photographs also take a lot of time and need good upload speeds so there may not be as many – apologies.

The cruise has been a good one. As with every ship, there are things we really enjoyed and other things we think could be improved. The food has been a very good standard with a good variety of fresh food, and cuisines – in all restaurants.

The crew appear to be a happy one with all of them only too willing to help or provide assistance and, unfailingly, a smile on their faces. How they keep up the energy and presentation cruise after cruise, back to back for their 8 month contracts is beyond us. On this cruise, we get off at 8am and the ship sails again at 4pm with a new batch of passengers - and there will be a big turnover in this port compared to the other ones we have been through. So the cabin staff, in particular, will have a huge job getting the cabins ready for the boarding passengers by early afternoon.

The biggest downfall, for a ship this size, is the lack of quiet corners and space in bars where you can just sit and have a quiet drink or a read. The public areas are relatively small, even compared to smaller ships. But, you can’t have everything and it really is a first world problem !!

John – a miserable 2500 steps so far today up to 4.30pm.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Tuesday 14 May 2019 - Southampton and Portsmouth

The ship slid into its berth in Southampton at 05:30am very gently this morning. So much so that most of us did not realise that we had docked. It looked like a beautiful morning although a little chilly outsider at 6 degrees. Top of 18 expected.

We are both a pair of crocks with our coughing and sniffling.

Early breakfast at 6:15am and we were ready to walk off the ship at 07:30am – which we did. We don’t wait for our allocated timeslot any more. We just join the next band of merry men at the gangplank and walk off. No one checks the number we have been allocated – all they want us to do is get off the ship.

A short wait in the terminal to find our luggage and we were ready to be picked up at 08:00am. Problem was, we had booked the transfer for 10:00am. A quick phone call and the car was on its way. Somehow, the driver and I found each other in the mass of 3000 passengers all milling around at the same time outside the terminal. And to add a bit of internet, the fire alarm went off inside the terminal and everyone had to evacuate quickly.

Peta and Paul had said their goodbyes and headed off for the car rental office to pick up their car for the drive they are going to do in the UK, Scotland and Ireland

No matter, Faisan from Pakistan found us OK and in no time we were underway toward Portsmouth. The drive took about 1 hour in peak hour traffic. Faisan said he could do it in 40 minutes if we missed peak hour. Beautiful green countryside.

Arrived in Portsmouth at about 9:15am and went to our accommodation at the Ibis Portsmouth Centre. Too early for check in so left the luggage at the desk with a very helpful Aaron who could not have offered more assistance. We have used Ibis in many of our overseas trips and know what to expect. Clean, functional, and without frills. But good wifi (so far) and has a restaurant a bar attached so we don’t have to venture out into the cold, rain and snow tonight with our coughs and colds. Breakfast included.

A short walk into the retail centre of Portsmouth. Significant amounts of the centre are wide car free pedestrian streets but the city does look a bit worn and tattered. The overall impression is that it is a working town.

Found a Boots Pharmacy and spent a fortune topping up with anti cough mixtures and nasal decongestants in an effort to be able to get a decent night’s sleep tonight. Here’s hoping.

Then headed to an area known as the Gunwharf Quays. Portsmouth is a Royal Navy town and this area was obviously used in the past for bombing up the Fleet with ammunition and victuals. Now redeveloped and given back to the locals as a large entertainment area with many restaurants and cafes. Surrounding that are high end outlet stores. A very pleasant area.

The weather is nice – a top of about 19 degrees with blue skies but a biting cold wind blowing most of the day in the exposed areas.

A walk back to the hotel and found a room had been allocated. Moved in and did some reading and had rest including catching some zzzzzzzs !!

Dinner in the hotel restaurant – just adequate but pragmatic choice.

Our Brittany Ferry leaves at 9am tomorrow morning for Cherbourg. The Terminal is only about 4km from here so will have to leave the hotel around 7:45am. It is a 3 hour crossing and we will have to revert back to French timings - so will be back to 8 hours ahead of you while we are in France.

Arrive at Cherbourg at 1:00pm local and picking up the hire car for a 200km drive to Huisnes-Sur- Mer.

John – 12447 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Wednesday 15 May 2019 – France

A relatively good night’s sleep – at last. Got a good 5 hours in and then broken sleep up to 7 hours. Up early (5:45am) to catch the ferry to France at 09:00am.

Breakfast was adequate and in fact has been better than some we have seen in an Ibis Hotel.

Aaron organised a taxi for us and we headed to the Brittany cross channel port - four pounds fifty .

Boarded the Normandie Express for Cherbourg at 08:30am and we were underway at O9:00 as scheduled.

We had booked Club Seats which were very good but for the hold was full of cars he number of people onboard, we could have sat anywhere and bee almost as comfortable. Free cup of coffee served by a smooth young Frenchman with a curled moustache and an orange juice later on. The loading seating and sailing were seamless.

The hold was full of cars. The drivers come upstairs and then return to their cars on arrival. Roaring trade at the cafés.

Smooth crossing with a couple of bumps on the way and we were there by 1pm local – a 3 hour journey.

Took the shuttle bus into Cherbourg and it stopped near our car hire location but we still had half an hour to wait while the Frogs had their lunch – closed 12-2pm !! An American couple were waiting for their car too so we repaired to a nearby bar and had a cool drink while we waited. Had a good chat before we all headed our own ways.

We have been allocated a diesel Ford C Max which is perfect fit for our suitcases without having to drop back seats. It means we can use the boot cover when we halt to stop prying eyes seeing suitcases in the boot. It is an auto and has GPS, neither of which I asked for or paid for – bonus !

Arrived at our AirBnB in Huisnes-sur-Mer at 5:30pm. An old farmhouse with two large family rooms on the first floor over a kitchen. We occupy one and there is plenty f room. Shower is new and is a good size. Very rural around here with a working farm next door. Apparently the sheep run past the front door twice a day. Will try to capture it tomorrow morning.

For the record:

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Mont St Michael maison du Montier 1

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">4 Rue de Montier

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Huisnes-sur- Mer

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Lower Normandy, 50170

The proprietor, Jacqueline, is a Brit who has offered all the help we need for the night. She suggested a restaurant at nearby Beauvois – La Fermette. It turned out to be a popular venue and we enjoyed the meal very much (including the two glasses of wine with dinner !).

Back to the AirBnb by about 8:30pm and expect to be in bed early tonight after driving the 200Km this afternoon from Cherbourg to the AirBnb Bigger day tomorrow driving 275km to St Hilaire-de -Riez to the next AirBnB.

John – still managed 4685 steps even with all the driving.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Thursday 16 May 2019 – Huisnes-sur-Mer & Saint Hilaire-de-Riez

Good sleep overnight with temperatures only going as low a 9 degrees. Open window, no air conditioning, good doona.

Woke about 6am and went downstairs for a read and coffee – just like being on the ship !!

Breakfast at 8:30am – simple but more than adequate from our host Jacqueline – scrambled eggs, fruit, toast, yoghurt and cereal. At about 9am, Jacqueline said the sheep were coming so we went outside to see about 500 sheep dashing past the property on their way to their day pasture.

Jaqueline also helps the next door farmer rounding the sheep up and holding out the red flag on the road going past the property while the sheep cross – much like a school crossing. All over in 10 minutes but something different to start the day. Only issue is dodging the sheepy do – they appear to be pretty regular ! And that is why Jacqueline asks guest to take off their shoes at the door !

Packed and ready to depart at 10am – a good stay in a typical French farmhouse – with a Brit running the show.

On to Mont St Michel. An awe inspiring sight. Benedictine monks settled the granite rock in 966 and built the first church. Over the next 200-300 years, the church was added to and became the structure it is today. Military construction of defences were built in the 1330-1453 period for protection during the Hundred Years War. It was abandoned by the monks during the French Revolution and it became a State Prison. It was returned to a historical site in 1874 and opened to the public. It is now listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.

The car park is about 2km from the Mont and a free shuttle service operates for those who do not want to walk the distance – of which there were many – perhaps they were demonstrating their penance ?

The lower section of the Mont is now well commercialised with cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops, hotels etc but as you climb the stairs – many of them - the good old Catholic ethic kicks in and religious buildings start to dominate (Catholics always build on a hill ??).

The stairs lead to the Abbey with all of its nooks and crannies, altars, crucifixes, stairs, meeting halls and so on. The size is gigantic and you really have to wonder how the hell they ever constructed a building as solid and as big as it is. This is particularly so when the tides and quicksand around the island prevented movement for a lot of the time. It is only in recent times that a causeway has been constructed to allow all weather and constant access to the site.

The Chapel itself is not overdone as it is in many of the great cathedrals. In fact it is fairly simple but in doing so, it adds to its majestic presence.

Well worth the visit if you happen to be in the area – but take your climbing shoes for all the stairs.

On the road and heading south to our next destination of Saint Hilaire-de-Riez – a drive of about 275km. We did not want to make the drive each day too much too much of a stretch so 200-300km a day was considered in planning.

We drove via St Nazaire in the hope of catching a sight of the WWII submarine pens built by the Germans but we did not have the time to explore further. There is, however a huge suspension bridge over the wide Loire River that was built in 1975. Again, a stunning structure.

I do have to say that French road signage can be a bit confusing and more than once today, we found ourselves heading back in the direction we came from, having chosen the wrong exit form one of the MANY roundabouts they use for traffic control. A little frustrating and time wasting ! And this is despite having a Tom Tom GPS, GPS in the car and using a phone app.

However, we did finally make it to our AirBNBin Saint Hilaire de Riez – again owned by a Brit – Paul. Paul met us at the place and ran us through the operations. For the record:

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">19 Boulevard de l’Ocean

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Saint Hilaire de Riez

It is a spacious little bungalow a few streets back from the beach with plenty of room inside. It can actually sleep six in three double rooms but the price was OK for us and gave us the room and amenities we wanted.

A trip to the supermarket to top up on breakfast supplies (no breakfast at this establishment) and then into a nearby town for dinner at a place , La Villa, recommended by Paul. Nice dinner – Roz got a real surprise when she ordered what she thought would be a simple green salad with some smoked salmon on top – huge and one of the best salads she has had, she said. See the photo.

Back to the AirBnB and tried to use his washer / dryer – would not work properly so we will have to look for a laundromat somewhere.

A good day out and about, the highlight of which was the Mont – but closely followed by the running of the sheep !

John – 8793 steps today – most of those would have been stairs at Mont St Michel.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Friday 17 May 2019 – Cognac

A short description of Friday’s driving activities.

The drive from Saint Hilaire de Riez was somewhat uneventful – except for the couple of places where the GPS failed us (or I didn’t read it right) and we did a few circles, extending the day by about 1 hour.

French signage is not always easy to follow and there are so many roundabouts, with multiple entries and exits and we only have a split second to decide if the exit we want is the right one. At least I did not get onto any of the toll ways accidentally.

We drove close to 300km over about 4.5 hours and arrived at Cognac at 4pm and went to our AirBnB. A bit of surprise because the place looked like an old garage site with a workshop underneath and large doors opening into the garage. The upstairs bedrooms were somewhat dated as well and someone was not impressed (guess who ?). However, the stay ended up being pretty pleasant.

The owners/proprietors, Christine and Bernard Rosset turned out to be interesting people and we had long chats with Christine in particular. Before moving to Cognac they did a lot of sailing on a two masted boat from France to the West Indies and back, with 6 foster children, a daughter and a dog onboard ! Christine must be around our age and was off to coach kids in rowing and then to do some rowing herself on the Charente River. Very active and an interesting person.

Cognac is an old city from the 9th century (and some of the buildings look like it) but we enjoyed the short time we had there. Of course, it is known for the production of Cognac. We took a gallop into the retail centre of the city and had a coffee and a sticky bun.

We had noted that there was a Thai restaurant in town, Baan Thai – and we were craving our Asian fix. We usually get this way about a month into any trip to Europe which is meat heavy and really look forward to the lighter tastes of Thai or Vietnamese - we found it in Cognac. The meal was very good Thai and was not the usual heavy sauces that sometimes accompany the meals. Well decorated surroundings and good service.

Unfortunately, the weather has turned for the worse and we have had rain throughout the day and the wind has become bitingly cold. Christine kindly loaned us a couple of coats to go to dinner.

Back to the Laundromat story. On arrival at Cognac, we walked two minutes up the road to a place that advertised itself 7am to 10 pm, 7 days a week. Guess what ? Closed and locked ! So we still have two bags of wet clothes to take with us to Sarlat. I rang the number on the door and the rude Frog hung up on me !

Reasonable night’s sleep although the walls were pretty thin and some of the noise filtered through.

John – about 7,500 steps today

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Saturday 18 May 2019 – Sarlat-de-Caneda

Still raining this morning. And cool.

I woke early and had a time to have a read while Roz had a bit of a sleep in. Out for breakfast at 9am and a long chat with Christine on politics and the worries of the world. Typical French breakfast though – baguette, jam and coffee. Yoghurt was on offer but not taken.

We took a last look around Cognac before departure going to look at a rose garden in the very pretty botanical gardens in the grounds of what is now the City Hall – used to be the Hotel de Ville. Can only imagine how good the hotel looked in its heyday.

Also visited the covered markets where there were the usual fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, meat, patisserie and boulangerie outlets.

Then headed to a cognac Chateau in the hopes of getting a tour (and a sip) – but not to be, we were too late. So we decided to cut our losses, get back to the AirBnB and hit the road.

Finally got away at 12noon for Sarlat – about 200km away. Only one false step on this run and arrived on time at about 4pm after a mid afternoon late lunch at a diner at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere.

Much of our driving over the past two days has been off the main highways on secondary roads through French villages and the very productive countryside. We have seen vineyards, forest areas, green crops and cultivated fields. The photo opportunities were endless but the time constraints were such that we could not stop every time we saw a great sight. Also the roads are so narrow, there is nowhere to pull off to the side and take a photo.

Most of the driving is at 90 or 110kph on the major roads, down to 70 and 50kph on roads near townships. On the freeway though , 130kph is the go – and that was fun in the wet today with spray going everywhere. But safely in Sarlat at 4pm, on schedule.

We are staying here in Sarlat for the next 7 days and using it as our base to visit nearby attractions.

We have lucked out with this AirBnB ! (someone approves and is happy !!). The place is immaculate and there is plenty of room to feel comfortable. It is right on the edge of town and we should be able to walk comfortably into the main centre. The laundry is about 5 minutes walk from here !

Given it is a self-catering and serviced facility, we dropped into a Carrefour supermarket on the way in and have topped up with the supplies for some meals. After effectively eating out for the past month, we bought some steak and veges and have enjoyed a nice meal, at home tonight.

French TV is a dead loss and no English channels at all, let alone any news channels. So have fired up Bluetooth and are using our little speaker to listen to Australian radio stations.

Tomorrow will be a day of rest – good thing it is a Sunday ! Will try and get the washing and drying done.

All good so far and looking forward to the last two weeks of the holiday ! Weather appears to have improved but still grey skies.

The coughs and runny noses appear to be improving – at last. Still a bit there but better than a few days ago.

John – less than 3000 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Sunday 26 May 2019 – Sarlat

Comfortable night’s sleep for the first night. We appear to be in a quiet area of Sarlat on the edge of the Old City. The street outside is a one way lane with us on one side and a park on the other and does not lead to any busy areas - so hopefully the peace will continue.

About 9 degrees overnight and only getting to 18 today apparently.

We have been driving for 4 days and over 1000km so today – Sunday – is our day of rest. Late sleep in for some and a leisurely breakfast. So good to be just sitting around our own apartment and making an easy breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, cereal, toast and coffee than having to get dressed and head to a restaurant or the dining room.

Eventually got out the door around 11:30am with three LARGE bags of (wet) washing that needed attention. The <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Laverie (laundromat) is no more than 4-500 metres down the road and when we got there, all the machines were free. BUT – One Euro coins and 50 cent pieces were needed to operate the machines and dryers – 4 Euro per washing load and 6 minutes of drying for each 50 cents. E had two loads of washing and at least 30 minutes of drying. And we did not have Euro coins at all !!

Washing in hand, a wander down to the centre of town and found a small café open. A coffee and <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">a jambon et fromage baguette later (good old ham and cheese), produced some of the coins and I managed to explain I needed more coins, not notes. Madame was most gracious and she changed the 5 Euro note for coins.

Back to the Laverie and two loads of washing on the way. 45 minutes of reading on our kindles – fortunately two chairs in the room and no one else there when we started. A bunch of likely lads turned up half way through – all their clobber in one machine – and they disappeared until the washing was done.

Then another half hour waiting while the drying was completed and back to the AirBnB. More coffee after that strenuous activity and then into the ironing so that we start the week spick and span.

The sun has been coming and going all day with a few light showers in between. Not the nicest day anyway but not bad for the catch up we needed to do. The weather is forecast to improve as we move through the week (they say).

Could not help ourselves – there is a Vietnamese restaurant just down the road - its raining and there is a cold wind blowing. So we have not strayed too far from home for dinner.

Restaurant Hà-Tiên (Viêt Thaï) - 11 rue Fénelon - 24200 SARLAT-LA-CANEDA

Nice homecooked Vietnamese meal and the lady running the place was very nice. While we were there, two other Aussie couples came in for food !

The rain stopped during dinner so we took a stroll around the town centre. Very deserted on a Sunday night but could not believe the number of restaurants open for business and mostly empty !

Will start earlier tomorrow and head back into the Sarlat centre of town when the businesses are open and to visit the tourist Centre. In the afternoon, we intend to visit The Gardens of Eyrignac which is only about half an hour’s drive away.

John – 5340 steps today – but weighed down by the washing !

Monday 20 May 2019 – Sarlat

Great sleep last night. I got almost 8 hours of pretty uninterrupted sleep !! Unheard of !! Roz did even better. I think the cooler weather is helping and the comfortable bed.

A little brighter to start the day and it got even better as the morning wore on. We were going to do an early gallop around town to see what was open in normal business hours and then visit some gardens at Eyrignac this afternoon.

Instead, we visited the Tourist Bureau and had a chat with the ladies there and they got us interested in a guided tour of three villages. Our preference was to do it later in the week but the only vacancies they had were at 2pm this afternoon. So we are off to Beynac, Domme and La Roque-Gageac, for four hours, including a boat ride on the Dordogne River. Thought we would try one guided tour to see the quality / value as well as to do our own thing later in the week. As indicated, the market day in Sarlat is Wednesday so we have to be in town for that.

Almost 1pm here (9pm yours) and the sun is shining ! Should be a nice afternoon but taking an extra jacket as it will be cold if the wind blows.

We did do a short tour of town – a bit more lively than last night but not a throbbing metropoli. A lot of shops are closed – whether it is just for Monday or not worth opening until the busier season starts. Passed a Carrefour Express and grabbed some of their excellent sandwiches and had those with coffee back at the AirBnB before heading to the meeting point for the tour.

Wikipedia tell us that Sarlat is a medieval town that developed around a large Benedictine Abbey of Carolingian origin. The medieval Sarlat Cathedral is dedicated to the Saint Sacedros. .

Because modern history has largely passed it by, Sarlat has remained preserved and one of the towns most representative of 14th century France.

The centre of the town is really impressive with its well preserved stone buildings, alleyways and thoroughfares. Most of it is pedestrian only but the ring roads around the outside are dual purpose and you have to be careful crossing those streets, even though they are all only one way.

Some absolutely magnificent Patisseries around. We are tempted every time we pass them – the displayed items are works of art. We have promised ourselves at least one blow out before we leave.

Tour done, dinner done !!

Now 9:15pm !! 5:15am your time. I am going to be late.

The tour to Beynac, La Roque Gageac ad Domme was good – well worth the Euro 55pp – ot the least of which is that I did not have to drive. Went first to Beynac where we visited a castle – Le Chateau Beynac - <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">http://chateau-beynac.com/?lang=en. Four other Aussies joined us – Mike and Jenny from Port Macquarie and Sandra and Trevor from Canberra.

The Chateau is described as being the best preserved fortress in the Perigord. It was built in the 12th century and sita atop a 150m high cliff face. Apparently it was never captured by anyone. Only drove by and took the photo opportunity but it was a good looking castle !

Then drove to the absolutely beautiful La Roque Gageac which is perched between high cliffs and the Dordogne river. Did not have the chance to walk the town as we had to catch a river boat to do a tour up and down the river past the town. Bitterly cold and started raining on the boat but they did have an overhead cover which protected us from the rain. We will go back using our own car to investigate the town further.

Then onto Domme where we had a great view of the Dordogne River Valley and had 50 minutes to walk around town . It is a walled city that was built in part by the French and the English over time. Very pretty but Roz and I were really hanging out for a coffee and a sticky bun by this time of the afternoon (5pm) – but do you think we could find one place that served food. The Frogs shut up shop early in the afternoon s and do not go back to serving food until about 7pm. We managed a cup of coffee but it was Euro3.20 each !! Very expensive – saw the tourists coming !

Back to Sarlat by 6pm and did a recce for dinner. Ended up at Chez Antoine – a pizza restaurant where we had a pizza and salad and a small glass of wine. Roz had a glass of dry white (acceptable) and I grabbed a half litre of a merlot style red house wine. Have to say , we have not had a bad house wine since we have been in France – they are all good – and cheap. The half litre of red wine was just Euro 8.

A slow walk back to the AirBnB an it was almost 9pm. Getting close to our bedtime.

We have booked with the same company to go and see the Lascaux caves tomorrow

John – 14,100 steps today !

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Tuesday 21 May 2019 – Sarlat

A warmer night overnight and little rain around this morning. Definitely not as cold as yesterday. Did not sleep as well but still got over 6 hours in.

Getting organised to go out to do some grocery shopping and someone was outside the door cleaning up the little covered area outside the door. Turned out to be our landlady Emilie ! Had a good long chat to her – found out how to operate the microwave properly – and got some fresh towels from her. This wet and damp weather has made it hard to dry the towels overnight. She was very personable and on for a chat.

Not doing too bad in life are Emilie and her husband – they have 5 rental properties on the go at the moment and are renovating one above this place to be ready in October.

11:30am before she took her leave and we did a dash down to the local Carrefour supermarket to replenish a few items. Have found the water, while drinkable, is much like Adelaide water with small fine particles in it. That has pushed us to buy bottled water just to be sure. Also bought some descaling liquid to clean the kettle.

Heading off to the Lascaux Caves this afternoon from 2-6pm . The caves are about 25km north of Sarlat and contain prehistoric cave paintings, only discovered in 1940 by four young lads. The original caves are now closed to the public because of the damage carbon dioxide breathing was doing to the surfaces (….global warming / climate change….. quick, tell BS Bill his message is not in vain – might make him feel better and take the pain away ☹) but an interpretive centre has been constructed.

The sun is out and it is a balmy 17 degrees. Met our guide Emilien at 2pm (same guy as yesterday) and the other two Australian couples we were also with. Today we hd a Canadian Couple with us making it a full van load. No problem, the destination was only about half an hour away.

The purpose was to visit sites that had prehistoric relevance and Emilien took us to a number of locations where we were able to see evidence of cave dwelling by the CroMagnon people.

First stop was a drive past and photo opportunity at a Chateau that had been turned into a National Museum.

Then to a very pretty village – St Leon – where we viewed a Roman era church.

On to the main event – the Lascaux. As said previously, the caves were discovered only in 1940 by four young lads and their dog. The dog went looking for something in the scrub, the lads followed and found the entrance to a cave. What was inside was astounding.

Over 2,000 cave paintings and enb=gravings were found from over 25,000 years ago and because they had not been disturbed in all that time, they were in excellent order. It took the Government until 1946 to open them to the public but by 1963, it was obvious serious damage was being caused to the environment in the cave and it was closed.

Since then, three replica caves of varying sizes have been constructed to replicate what was inside the original. Lascaux IV, the one we visited, is the latest and the greatest.

Apparently, 3D photography was employed and fibre glass moulds were constructed at a separate location to replicate the tunnels in the cave. The moulds were brought to a location near the original and then covered with a mixture of limestone, fibre glass and latex to faithfully create new tunnels. 34 artists were then employed for three years to paint the drawings in the new tunnel, again faithfully replicating the original. The result is stunning and so real.

We joined a large group with an English speaking guide and for the next hour moved through the tunnels in darkness, only highlighted by LEDs at the appropriate places to show the paintings. They have done it so well that you really do feel you are in the original tunnels.

The paintings are mostly of deer, horses and cows, some bison, mountain lions and very little humans. The standard and perspective of the paintings by the original artists 25,000 years ago is accurate and they are apparently the best example of this era art in France.

No photography is allowed in the tunnels even though it is only replicas. But at the end, in their workshop, they have recreated the major scenes by hanging cave sections from the ceiling and highlighting the paintings. That is where we could photograph.

It really was an interesting exhibition, even if only for the construction of the display. It reminded me somewhat of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art)in Hobart - not the content but how the gallery was built.

Late departing Lascaux – the tour should have finished in Sarlat at 6pm – we got back after 7pm. So a late dinner. Roz had bought some salmon so we had dinner in the AirBnB with some vegetables. Great !! Now 9:00pm and still light outside.

Tomorrow morning is market day in Sarlat so we will go down and wander aimlessly and see what we can see. Saturday is the Food and Craft Market – the bigger one – Wednesday is apparently still large but only focussing on fresh produce. If the weather holds, we will try to visit the Gardens of Eyrignac in the afternoon.

It has been a beautiful day in Sarlat with sunshine and pleasant temperature – just in shirtsleeves and singlet. It is unfortunately due to deteriorate with an 80%!c(MISSING)hance of rain on Friday. So will also try to get to Rocamadour on Thursday and reserve Friday for packing, cleaning, washing and touring Sarlat itself more thoroughly.

Good day out at the ranch !

John, just over 7000 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Wednesday 22 Mar 2019 – Sarlat

Bright and sunny morning getting up to 24 today, they say – at least it is 21 at midday and warm.

Market day so we headed down to town and wandered the streets getting the atmosphere. Food only today so smaller than the Saturday market apparently but all the internal streets and squares had vendors selling all manner of foodstuffs – fresh meat, fish, olives, sausage, nuts, fruit and vegetables and the inevitable foie de gras, in all its forms.

You cannot believe the number of products they make from ducks here – it is invasive !! <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Le Canard is certainly popular ! We choose not to imbibe – not one of our favourites. In fact we do not like duck in any form.

A lot of people, mainly tourists it seems, in town and wandering the streets. The produce did look fresh and if we were staying any length of time, we would have availed ourselves of some of it for meals.

Stopped off for our indulgence at the <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Maison Massoulier – Patissier – Chocolatier for a <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">café allonge – same as our black coffee, but not as small as an expresso – and a sweet something. We behaved ourselves and contented with sharing a <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Tartine du Pomme – no cream or icecream. Tartine was only Euro 4.20 and the coffees Euro 1.50 each.

4pm – Just back from the visit to Le Jardins de Manoir de Eyrignac. How pleasant was that !!?? the Gardens are only about 10km from Sarlat on windy narrow back roads (all good – only struck one big tourist bus coming the other way and fortunately, there was enough room for me to go bush and miss him). Took about 20minutes of driving.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">www.eyrignac.com

The information pack provided says that the Gardens are of the Eyrignac Manor, where the writer Gauthier de Costes de la Calprenede lived in the 17th century. It is located in over 10 hectares of land and contains very good examples of the art of topiary. It has over 300 topiary sculptures and 50,000 yew, hornbeam, box and ivy plants around 7 springs. Having said all that – it looks good !!

Entry was Euro 12.90 per person.

Very well manicured gardens and pathways throughout and we even found a light aircraft landing ground down the back – the runway is on a slope that goes uphill so the arrival on that must be hairy – reminds me of some of the strips I flew into in PNG (except this runway did not have the big yama or cliff drop off at the end of it !!).

Very much worth the visit if anyone is in the area.

9pm – Back from a really nice meal at La Romane – a pizza restaurant.in the main street but also provides pastas and veal dishes. We had a more than adequate anti pasta dish for entrée, the saltimbucco veal, a quarter litre of white and a half litre of red and it all only came to AUD$70. Good value and even better when they provided a limoncello each free of charge. Again, if you are in Sarlat, La Romane is worth a visit.

The value and quality of the house wines is fantastic. Bergerac wines seem to have a wide distribution and seems to appear on most restaurant wine lists as the house wine. A half litre carafe of <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Vin Rouge tonight was Euro 7. Roz had a ¼ litre of Bergerac dry white at Euro 4.50. Bergerac is wine producing region in the north of the Dordogne, where we are at the moment.

Tomorrow the plan is to go to Rocamadour, a town built into the side of a hill with a significant religious connection and then, if we have time, to go back to La Roque Gageac from which we took the Dordogne River cruise. We did not get the chance to walk the town on that occasion.

Weather has been great today – warm and no cold winds. Just shirtsleeve territory. Low chance of rain tomorrow but 80%!c(MISSING)hance on Friday

John – just over 11,300 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Thursday 23 May 2019 – Rocamadour

Bright sunny morning with a forecast high of 25 – which was achieved in early afternoon. In fact it was almost tropical (well, almost !!).

On the road at 10am and drove to Rocamadour – about 60km to the east of Sarlat and just over an hour’s driving. Not a lot of traffic on the road but the roads are narrow and I had to be sure there was nothing coming around the next corner – so drove slowly !

Frustratingly though – I have my Tom Tom GPS, the car has a GPS and we have our phones with Google Maps. I don’t know how many times the three of them disagreed about the way to go and we ended up doing a very scenic, but longer drive, down backroads and tracks. Fortunately, all were bituminised but a lot of them were only one lane wide and took us through relatively thick forest areas. Again, thank goodness I did not meet any trucks or buses coming the other way !

We arrived in Rocamadour on the upper level – more by luck than design – and this turned out to be the best way to visit. Approaching from another direction, we would have arrived on the valley floor and would have spend the day climbing the hill.

Rocamadour is a small clifftop village. It is known for the Cité Réligieuse complex of religious buildings, accessed via the Grand Escalier staircase. It includes the Chapelle Notre-Dame, with its Black Madonna statue, and the Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of St-Sauveur.

It is constructed on three main levels – Chateau at the top, the Basilica and related religious areas on the middle level and a township on the lowest level.

There was plenty of free car parking at the top and we made our way down a zig zag pathway to the middle level, visiting 12 Stations of the Cross which have been built at each turn of the path. There are good vantage points and lookouts at various places on the way down.

On the religious level, is the Chapelle Notre Dame with an area known as the Miracle Chapel containing a Black Madonna for the faithful. The church was constructed in the mid 1400s. Next door is the Basilica where Masses are conducted with an impressive stained glass window over the Altar.

Many steep stone stairs, up and down, with very little workplace health and safety in place. I don’t know how Australians can contemplate visiting this place without worrying ourselves to death about whether we are going to fall and hurt ourselves (along with the Pyramids of Egypt, the street of Hanoi, The Rock at Gibraltar, the fort at Kotor etc). Thank goodness our politicians and bureaucrats look after us in Australia – I wonder how we can ever express our gratitude to them !!!

Down to the street level and a wander along the one street of the village. Many craft shops, cafes ad restaurants. We found a hotel with a shady courtyard and had a nice lunch, sampling the cheeses for which Rocamadour is famous – mainly goat cheeses.

The thought of the walk back up the hill was too taxing so we took the <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">“Ascenseur” (lift) back to the top. It is in two parts – a hydraulic lift from the street to the church level and then a funicular to the top – Euro 4.20 per person for the two rides.

Took a different way back to Sarlat via La Roque Gageac, where we took the Dordogne River boat ride from. Again, the GPS devices played silly buggers with us and we took another very scenic ride through rural France. We are actually seeing a lot of “real” countryside instead of the main roads – so we should not complain. My only concern is the concentration required on the sharp turns and narrow roads. At one point though, the GPS took us through what looked like the farmyard backyard ! But it was very secondary connector road around one of the towns and got us there in the end.

La Roque Gageac looks attractive but there is actually not much on the street other than the standard retail outlets. A lot of people were there hiring canoes to use on the river. It was such a good day, every bloke and his uncle was out there. The tourist boats must have been having problems dodging them !! Took a walk along the retail shops which front the river – nothing behind them anyway and then deciding to bolt for home, getting back to Sarlat at about 4:00pm.

Our landlady Emilie was next door doing some housework and she has offered to wash and dry our laundry tomorrow – accepted !! Better than sitting in the laundromat for 2 hours waiting for the cycles to finish. Very kind of her.

Wine and cheese at <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">l’accord parfait for our 5 o’clock drinks – a small wine bar in the main street. Just a taste of the local cheeses – at last, something that is a hard cheese not the soft stuff served on the ship.

Then on to another Vietnamese restaurant – <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Petit Saigon. Better than <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Ha Thien but not the same chattiness from the hosts. He was front of house – apparently from middle Europe and she in the kitchen from Vietnam. Salt and pepper prawns for Roz and lemongrass beef for me. Took the long way home to walk off the cheese and dinner.

8pm and it is still warm – 22 degrees. Very quiet around town but so many restaurants open for business. Don’t know how they turn a dollar with so few people around.

John – 8200 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Friday 24 May 2019 – Sarlat

A short blog for today. Not much action ! The day began dull, stay that way and then burst open with rain late I the afternoon.

We had made the decision to have a late start, easy day and get organised for the drive to Carcassonne tomorrow.

And so it was.

Our landlady kindly offered to wash and dry our laundry – very kind.

We went to Carrefours Supermarket to fill up with fuel (cheapest) and to get some lunch and dinner. We were just thinking of the next week where we will need to go out for meals as we will not have kitchen facilities and thought a couple of home cooked meals might balance it out. So a Thai soup for lunch and a Quiche Lorraine for dinner with vegetables was on the menu.

Spent the afternoon packing our cases and ironing – had to do a dash to the laundromat to finish drying the clothes – the landlady drying did not quite get there !

5 O’Clock Wine O’Clock at the same place as last night – L’Accord Parfait. Sylvan looked after us again with wine and cheese. We intended to have the one drink and depart but the rains came and another two glasses of wine later ………………… Hard walk back up the hill.

The quiche and vegetables became just quiche …. And we are stuffed !

Trying to get away by about 9am tomorrow morning and head for a place called Albi – about half way to Carcassonne. Apparently the cathedral there is incredible. Then onto Carcassonne where we have booked a B&B under the walls and with a view of the ancient city.

We are glad we chose Sarlat la Caneda as our week long stay. It is ideally placed in the Dordogne to be able to visit other interesting sites and there is enough in Sarlat itself to make is worth the visit. Our choice of AirBnB also proved to be the right one. Could not have been a better location in Sarlat or quality of the place itself. We dun good !!

John – just on 5,000 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Saturday 25 May 2019 - Carcassonne

A wet rainy start to the day but we got going early anyway. A bit of last minute packing, clean up the unit, get rid of the rubbish, breakfast etc and we were on the road by 9am. The good part of that was that not many people were out and about at that time and that made driving easier.

Where people were gathering though was in the centre of town for the Saturday markets. There were street closures for the length of the main street and the stalls were being erected tight along that area. It must be a big day as it includes food, clothing and crafts. We chose not to stop because once we got started, we probably would not leave before midday and we had about 4 hours of driving to do to reach Carcassone.

Our intermediate stop was at Albi where Basilica Cathedral of Saint Cecile is located. This is a huge structure which began life as a fortress in the mid 1200s and took 200 years to build although the present cathedral was preceded by other constructions. It is built in a Southern French Gothic style. The interior is colourful and detailed with soaring ceilings. Well worth the stop off to visit.

We took lunch in a small bar near the Cathedral and mine host there was indeed a jolly Frenchman. He did not stop talking to patrons, literally whistling while he worked and could not have been more helpful. He was a rugby fan and when he detected we were Australians, he whipped around the back of the bar and came out wearing an Australian Rugby cap. A boomerang on the wall also told a story of who visited his bar from time to time.

The afternoon was spend driving through driving rain – on narrow secondary roads. A fair bit of concentration was required and not helped by the usual antics of the GPS units – at one stage all three pointing in three different directions ! Wot fun !!

However, we did arrive in Carcassonne right on the check in time of 5pm and found our B&B without any problem. I had paid extra to get a secure off street car park in his garage and just as well because the street parking was chockers.

Jerome is the host and his reviews indicate that he is very helpful – and that was the case. We had chosen a 2nd floor bedroom (no lifts) to get a good view of the Medieval City Walls and Jerome kindly lugged the heavier cases up the stairs for us. Apparently the city walls light up after dark.

The bedroom suite is spacious and appears clean on arrival. We have a bedroom, a sitting room and a bathroom with a separate toilet. No in room cooking facilities as it is a B&B, not AirBnB.

For the record, we are at:

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Carcas Hotes Guest house

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">101 Rue Barbacane

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Carcassonne 11000

No car is required to access the new city area or the Medieval Cite. Everything is within about 15 minutes walking distance and finding a park for the car would be impossible anyway. We are staying here for two nights so that we have a full day to visit the Cite and take our time.

Then, it is on to Perpignan which is only about one and half hours down the road where we return the car, overnight and then catch a train to Barcelona later in the week.

Starting to get weary with the driving – have done well over 1300 km so far from leaving Cherbourg and while Roz would say I have had a few “close shaves”, there are no extra marks on the car (touch wood). Driving on the right has not been a problem as I have now driven in France, Italy and the USA a number of times and the mind switch does not appear to be an issue. Just judging distances for that front right of the car is the most challenging. But as I said, nothing grazed - yet !

Many restaurant choices nearby, up in the Cite and in the new City. We chose one just around the corner with a Euro16 fixed menu – soup, steak salad and chips and a tartine – and you could not jump over the portions. House red or white was more than acceptable – Euro 3.50 a glass. Met a couple from Sydney at the next table who had been here a day and got some good tips for touring the Cite tomorrow. They had also come up from Perpignan and indicated we would enjoy that city too.

Almost 9:30pm and the light is still with us. Waiting for the Cite lights to show up the walls. Will delay the photos until I have those shots.

In fact, they have just lit the lights and the effect is magical. Will get some more when it is completely dark but will put some into the photo blog now.

The rain has stopped but the wind is cold. The temperature on the phone says it is 17 degrees but cannot believe that – it is icy outside. Home now

John – too much driving – a measly 5770 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Sunday 26 May 2019 – Carcassonne

Another bleak and windy looking outlook to start the day. The rain looks like easing through the middle of the day so will try and get our touring done as early as possible. La Cite is literally out the front door and a €9 ticket will give us access to all the main areas of the attraction including the chateau.

Continental breakfast in a pleasant dining room – but croissants, ham and cheese are a bit hard to take at that hour of the day. Our host Jerome had some cereal but it was all Cocopops, Frosties and other sugar loaded varieties (think he wants to save money – virtually none of it had been touched). Yoghurt was available, orange juice and the coffee was good. But we made the best of it and had enough to sustain us until we hit La Cite.

Spitting rain and cold wind blowing as we walked the 15 minutes to the Porte Narbonnaise. There are two entrances – the one we are using and the other is Porte d’Aude.

Carcassonne was settled as early as the 6th century BC and later became an important Roman town. It was fortified in the 4th century and was a strategic site in the Middle Ages. It took on its definitive shape in the 13th century with the king’s decision to construct the distinctive double-walled ramparts and extend the castle. The fortified area above the town is known as La Cite.

The construction and ramparts are impressive as the walls are approached and it is obvious the facility is kept in prime condition.

Once inside, the narrow streets are a maze of souvenir, pottery, material and clothing shops and many restaurants, as well as the historical elements of the Chateau and the Basilica of St Nazaire.

Of course, we find today is the day the Chateau decides to close its doors !!! Does not happen often (rarely in fact) but………………Trappetts are visiting – so close the place up in case they steal the silver.

Even the ramparts were not available as they are accessed through the Chateau – so we did not get sweeping views of the surrounding countryside or looking back into La Cite itself. Disappointing.

However, we made the best of it and spent a good 5 hours wandering the streets and laneways looking at what was there. The complex is quite extensive.

Had a very good lunch in one of the restaurants. It being a cold day, we were looking for something warm and wanted one of the local favourites – a cassoulette (casserole) of pork and haricot beans. The traditional recipe includes duck and we are not keen on duck - so stuck with the pork and beans – delicious. Balanced that with a vegetable soup. Very satisfying and probably the best lunch so far in France – certainly in terms of taste.

The Basilica of St Nazaire is yet another significant religious structure and it had beautiful stained glass windows over the altar area.

A coincidence as we wandered and people we had been on one of the tours in Sarlat with came around the corner. Stopped for a chat and they warned against visiting the Museum of Torture that is within the walls. We were going to give it a go but they said it was just so depressing seeing what instruments were used on people during the Inquisition period. I thought, perhaps, they might be useful to use on Australian politicians to concentrate their minds about what is important for the punters. No doubt they would object on some PC or Workplace Health and Safety grounds – or, perhaps, the torturers were not Union members or Greenies …….??!!

La Cite not offering much more on a cold day in the alleyways, we made our way back towards the BnB and took the bridge toward the New Cite on the other side of the River L’Aude. A light shower was wafting about but it did not develop to the point that walking about was not warranted.

Sunday afternoon, and not a whole lot happens in rural France – and so it was in downtown Carcassonne. Deserted, wet laneways with virtually all shops and outlets closed. A few bars and hotels doing trade but that was about it. However, to brighten the day, there were magnificent displays of roses in beds in one of the Squares. Roz tells me the roses in this area of France have been very good and they do look like it.

Made our way to the Canal du Midi which runs right through the middle of France from the East Coast to the West. Many holiday boats on the Canal negotiating the locks that raise and lower them along its length. We were fortunate enough to see two of the boats in the process of being raised and released from one of the locks.

Just got back to the BnB at about 5pm and guess what ? Patchy blue skies and brilliant sunshine !!! Wouldn’t you know it !! That will probably last into the evening now so will take advantage of that when we head to dinner.

9pm. Back from dinner. Took the hike back up to La Cite for a feed and after our rather substantial lunch, a pizza and salad were sufficient tonight. It was the half litre of vin rouge that did the damage !! So cheap - €7 for 500ml of quality red. It is hard to resist.

The good weather has persisted and it was very pleasant taking the walk up and down the hill. The lights for the city walls came on at 8:45pm.

All good so far. We leave Carcassonne and drive to Perpignan tomorrow where we will relinquish the car and overnight in preparation for the train trip to Barcelona on Tuesday. Have booked a hotel that is in the same complex as the station to make boarding easier.

John – big effort today – the counter says 18,300 steps ! Looking forward to a hot, relaxing shower tonight.

Monday 27 May 2019 – Perpignan

Bright sunny day to welcome us today – and relatively warm. There was a light breeze blowing but not too bad.

Breakfast at 9am and then check out by 10am and on the road. Only a relatively short run required today to Perpignan – about an hour and half if we went straight there. But our host Jerome suggested we visit an place at Abbaye Fontfroide, toward Narbonne, as he said the gardens were good. Only about 45 minutes drive.

The Abbey was on its own in the countryside about 15km from Narbonne and judging by the number of cars outside, it is very popular. It was founded in 1093 and underwent many changes of religious orders and constructions up to 1901 when French legal laws drove the monks from the Abbey. It was purchased in 1908 by private interests and remains so today. It produces its own brand of wines.

The associated buildings are well maintained (although showing the passing of time). Spaces are generous – they are not furnished at all so the floor area looks even larger. But you cannot help but be impressed by the aura of the place and we can only imagine the events of yesteryear in the rooms and halls.

There appears to be a very active social and entertainment program associated with the complex including concerts, art shows and Gregorian chants, among others.

Having finished with the buildings, we moved into the gardens and Jerome’s recommendation was not wrong. There is a “rosarium” with many beds of roses of a number of kinds. Roz was in raptures over the varieties she saw. Barb – see the photos, you will love them.

I won’t apologise for the number of rose photos – they were nice.

A relatively new restaurant and amenities block was situated at the entry – all very clean. Had a light lunch around 1pm and then hot the road again to drive to Perpignan. The GPSs basically behaved themselves and fortunately there was ample signage directing us to Perpignan – so no side trips !

Arrived in Perpignan at 3:15pm and went straight to the hotel we had chosen – a Quality Hotel which was in the same complex as Perpignan station – making our get away tomorrow easy !

Booked in, dropped the baggage and returned the hire car nearby without any incident. Got the all clear on marks and scratches – I dun good !!

A short walk back to the hotel, visit to the “Supermarche” supermarket conveniently located directly under the hotel to get some milk for our coffee.

A good walk up into the edge of the centre of Perpignan for dinner at Le Grand Café de la Paix. Adequate meal but quite the worst French fries we have ever seen. Should have photographed them but swimming in oil and soft as a wet noodle. The pile was left on the plate.

The stand out was the biggest ever Aperol Spritz we have seen for Roz. You never know what you are going to get until it arrives and this was a whopper ! And only €8.50.

Too late to get any meaningful shots of Perpignan but as we walked toward the centre, it did seem to improve in terms of scenery. The outer area (where we are staying, is quite old and industrial looking.

Repacking the suitcases so that we end up with just the two large cases and the two carry on cases to take on the train tomorrow.

Train departs at 10am and arrives Barcelona 11:30am

John – given we were sitting our out Fat A’s all day driving, we have managed a respectable 11,651 steps today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Tuesday 28 May 2019 – Barcelona

A bit of an unsettled night in a new bed which was comfortable, but the return air or the fan for the aircon had a hum in it. Ended up turning it off around 2am and silence reined from then. Of course, then got a bit warm and stuffy – can’t have it all can we !?

Lighter, brighter morning but a strong breeze was still blowing so it would have been uncomfortable outside. Breakfast in the hotel dining room – lots of guests there but found out they were all on the same bus tour. All cleared out as a group about half way through our breakfast, leaving us in peace.

The rail station (Gare) was attached to the hotel complex so it was only 2 or 3 minutes to get downstairs into the SCNF rail office to wait for the advice which platform the train would arrive on. Got that about 20 minutes before arrival and there was a wholesale movement of people from the SCNF office to the appropriate platform.

Right on time at 9:56am, the train to Barcelona Sants arrived. We had booked 1st class knowing how much more comfortable and how much extra room there is in that class. It had double decker carriages throughout and I had no problem finding a storage area for the large bags downstairs.

Our seats were in the top deck and as is often the case on European trains, someone was taking advantage of the extra space and sitting in our seats. A simple “Pardon ??” (with sneering French upward inflection in the voice) got him moved.

Very comfortable airline adjustable seats for the 1.5 hour journey to Barcelona. The train departed on schedule at 10am.

As a note, the platforms had police and a section of Army lads wandering about fully kitted out in field dress, with automatic weapons and body armour. Whether it was a see and be seen exercise or there was a threat, who knows ?

The train got up to 197kph during the journey and we had lovely views of the snow capped Pyrenees. Tres pleasant !

Arrived on time at 11:30am at Barcelona Sants station. And exit was easy and quick. Found a cab large enough to take the two large cases and the two carry ons and headed to our hotel at Citadines La Rambla, where we have stayed 2 or 3 times before.

Perfectly located in the middle of La Rambla, Carrefour supermarket across the road, and just up from La Boqueria fresh food market. It is a serviced apartment with basic kitchenette which we find is best for us in Barcelona.

We arrived just after 12noon and the room was ready for us – thank goodness so we were able to drop the bags and get out for a light lunch in one of the alleyways we have frequented before.

Then Carrefours to get some breakfast items and to the market to get the fruit. All stocked up !!

Beautiful sunshine after noon with a light breeze that will probably turn cool by evening.

A nanna nap was called for after al out travel.

Out at 4pm for a wander in the Gothic Quarter. Endless laneways with small shops, cafes and restaurants.

Ended up back one of our favourite restaurants – Moka – just two or three doors up from our hotel. They do make the best Sangrias that we have found – Cava Whte Sangria for Roz and the red wine Sangria for me. Most enjoyable for our 5 O’Clock Wine O’Clock session !

To dinner at a restaurant adjacent to Citadines. We have been there on a previous vis and enjoyed the food. We both had the slow roasted lamb shoulder (huge) and a plate of good seasonal vegetables. Beautiful meal.

While we were there, ,an older Australian couple arrived. Had a chat. Small world – he was in South Vietnam the same time I was except he was 2 Squadron RAAF at Phan Rang. They are heading off on a cruise on Celebrity Infinity tomorrow to the Greek Islands.

A long day from Perpignan to Barcelona – so an early night back at the ranch.

John -12100 steps today

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Wednesday 29 Apr 2019 – Barcelona

Bright sunny morning outside for some of us at 6am but for others, they did not see it until after 9am. Just sayin’.

Did not sleep all that well after our big lamb meal – too much meat – the jug of Sangria and one or two reds might not have helped ! But still got 7 hours in.

Had to do laundry either here or in Dubai to make the dash home without smelling like the backyard chook pen. Chose to do it here so some time lost while the washing and drying cycles each took about 50 minutes. Good set up here at Citadines with two Meile washers and two Meile dryers in the laundry in the basement. €9 for the wash and the dry. A couple of young people from Melbourne dropped in while I was waiting for the drying so I was able to coach them in how to use the machines. Also gave them the rest of our washing powder to save them having to buy.

All the instructions for the machines are in Spanish – very helpful. I am sure all our laundromats at home have multicultural diversity policies, with non discriminatory LGBT specific machines, multi language instructions and a halal certified coffee machine installed – we are just so thoughtful and progressive in Australia !!.

The rest of the day was really not specific for anything. We made our way around the streets of the Gothic Quarter dropping into anything interesting along the way – lunch, a coffee or two and a recon for dinner.

The streets were alive with the sound of music. Passing through the university area we heard a very loud heavy metal band pounding out a lunchtime concert. We weren’t the only oldies enjoying the music. Could not stay too long – the amplification was huge and our ears started to hurt after a while.

Many buskers in the streets – and good ones too. In particular, we came across a lady who we have seen before on other visits (she must be making a fortune !!). Her specialty is Nessum Dorma in one of the classic stone alley ways that really complements her voice. She must have had classical training but only dresses in a Tshirt and a pair of jeans with the knees out of them. She really belts it out and does it well.

A local called Paul runs Tastes of Barcelona Tapas and wine tours – which we have done twice with him at different times. One of the restaurants we really enjoyed was a tapas bar called <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">La Flauta which specialises in seafood. I emailed Paul and he confirmed it was still running and gave us the address. So – we went there for dinner and really enjoyed the fare again. For the record in case we visit again or if anyone is looking for a good tapas bar:

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">La Flauta<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Carrer d'Aribau, 23,

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">08011 Barcelona

Only 7:30pm so we headed back into the city . So many people still out and about, the evening was cool and most of the shops were still open. Walked for about 2 hours until the feet finally gave up the ghost and told us to go home.

Check out is at 12noon – tried to get that extended until at least 6pm but they are fully booked apparently. So we will have to store our bags at the hotel until our transfer pickup arrives at 7:30pm. There is a large disabled toilet in the foyer area that we will use to change later in the afternoon before heading for dinner somewhere nearby.

Our flight leaves at 10:30pm and arrives in Dubai at 7:30am Friday morning. May not have time to do the blog tomorrow.

The weather has been fantastic today. Sunshine all day and not getting over 20 degrees with just a light breeze.

John – big last day in Dodge City – 18,300 steps.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Thursday / Friday 30/31 May 2019 – Barcelona and Dubai

A bit of a double bunger to catch upon two day’s activity with flights in between.

Thursday in Barcelona could not have been a better weather day. Blue skies – a top of about 23 degrees, shirt sleeves even in the shade. Beautiful day and such good memory to leave Barcelona on.

Our flight was not until 10:30pm and our transfer from the hotel was at 7:30pm – so tried to get a late check out but the best we could get was 12 noon. Bit of a leap ! So we put aside clothes to change into and checked the luggage into the store at the hotel. On return after dinner, we used the disabled and baby change toilets in the foyer (much larger) to do a change and get ready for the flight to Dubai.

By the time we left the hotel at 12 noon and found some lunch, it was getting on for 2pm. Went to one of our favourite in Barcelona – a vegetarian restaurant called <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Vegetalia. Excellent little place with reasonable prices and tasty food.

To fill in the afternoon, we went to the Picasso Museum and braved the crowds of tourists with the same idea. Over 65s get a ticket for €7 instead of €14. I must admit I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The exhibition focussed a lot on his early life and in fact he started his prodigious art career at about the age of 12.

I know I am a philistine when it comes to art but I found his early work much more interesting than where his style and mind took him later in life. But the shear volume of what was on display was amazing and you would think it is only a fraction of all of his works. Well worth the visit.

A stop for a coffee and a sticky bun in one of the alleyways and back toward the hotel where we had dinner again at one of our favourites –<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"> Moka in La Rambla. The food is not fantastic – it is reasonable in both quality and price – but they do make the best Sangrias that we have had. Roz likes the champagne version called cava – which is a white wine base as against the traditional red wine base for sangria. A half litre shared contributed to an enjoyable Last Supper in Barcelona !

As said, we got changed and got the hurry up from our Sun Transfer driver who as parked in La Rambla and getting grief from the local Constabulary about how long he was there. The fact that he arrived half an hour early may have had something to do with it ! Of not, we have used Sun Transfers often in Barcelona and other cities. Always reliable, always clean modern cars and a reasonable price too.

To El Prat airport Terminal 1 – which is a barn – huge, but a barn - with no style value to it. A longish wait to board – and then on to an A380. Seat configuration in an A380 is 3-4-3 throughout Economy so we had to take two seats the middle four to avoid having to climb over anyone or having them climb over us.

We needn’t have worried – the flight was only half full and Roz and I had the four seats to ourselves. Still not long enough for me to stretch out so Roz got the benefit and was able to lie down for most of the flight. I suffered in silence – as usual !! 😊

Food was reasonable for an evening offering about midnight – breakfast was a forgettable Danish tart. Watched Nicole Kidman in “<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Destroyer” for a movie, read the Kindle and got an hour or so of on/off sleep. Smooth flying all the way. Arrived Dubai 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

We must have been one of the few flights arriving at 7:30am and the queues for immigration and luggage were light and we were straight through in about 20 minutes. Most of that was the walk from the aircraft to the luggage reclaim. For all the interest they take, I don’t know why UAE carries out any immigration or baggage/ Customs checks. Absolute disinterest and no formalities at all.

Took a Ladies’ Taxi again to give them the business – disappointed the Ethiopian woman who was driving as we were only going a short distance to Deira.

We knew we would be early , arriving at the hotel at about 8:30am and check in was not until 2pm. Parked the baggage and went to the dining room to have breakfast.

We have arrived during Ramadan and Muslims do not eat or drink from sun up to sun down during the month of Ramadan. Foreigners are allowed to partake but you have to do it behind closed doors and curtains. Most of the restaurants have curtains or moveable partitions which are put in place to shield the faithful form the infidels filling their guts. Even in the Malls, the Food Court is partitioned off with signs saying “For Non Muslims and Children”. Have to say though, there looked like a lot of non-practicing Muslims in the restaurants !

Returned to the foyer to put a guilt trip on the Reception Clerks and by 10am we had a room allocated – for which we were grateful. To the room for a shower and to put our heads down for a few hours.

Into the afternoon and a quick run into the Deira City Mall to get some real milk for our coffee in the room and bottled water. Normal working activity is not affected by Ramadan and the number of people out and about doing family shopping was incredible. Friday in the UAE is the equivalent of our Sunday with Government offices closed and some businesses.

A quick visit to Vijay (he is Indian and does not practise Ramadan) to pick up some items and then back to the Deira Mall. He kindly put on his car and driver both ways – Roz has Frequent Flyer points with him for the number of people she has recommended to visit his shop. Could not even have a water or coffee in the store as it would break the Ramadan requirements.

Back at the Mall around 7pm and the Ramadan dining curfew had been lifted so we were able to dine – along with the Muslim population that was out in force for an evening meal – and we don’t blame them !

7:30pm and getting weary after the long flying night and the prospect of the next leg of 14 hours tomorrow night. We depart at 02:30am from Dubai local time and arrive 14 hours later at about 10:30pm Brisbane time on Sunday night.

Tomorrow we are meeting a chap called Max Lohe and his wife Kelly for lunch. We met Max on our last visit in September last year with Graeme and Kathy and he squired us about town for a day and we all met for a lovely Thai dinner at Dubai Mall one evening. Max is the son of Conrad Lohe who was the Queensland government Solicitor General at one stage and Meaghan worked for him in Crown Law. Sadly, Conrad recently lost a battle with Motoneuron disease and he passed away while we have been on this trip.

The journey is almost over and we have to say, we will be glad to get back to our own bed and routine !

John – over 13,000 steps yesterday and 9500 today.

<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Saturday 1 June 2019 – Dubai

Last day in town ! Last day of the holiday ! How quickly has that come around ? You really wonder where the last 6 weeks got to. The cruise seems an age ago, France and Spain less so.

Very bright and very sunny on rising this morning at 7am. 28 degrees to start the day and it has climbed to 38 degrees through the day. The heat fries you on the footpath – a lot of that is reflected heat from the roadways and footpaths and the buildings. But it is hot – and only gets worse from here into their summer !

Took the Metro to Dubai Mall where we met Max and Kelly for lunch at <em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Baker and Spice in<em style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;"> Souq Al Bahar which is attached by a bridge to the Dubai Mall. Ordinarily, we would have a spectacular view of Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Fountains pool but because of Ramadan, windows and doors have to be covered and there is no viewing.

Despite that, we had a really nice lunch with them and a long chat. Kelly is 30 weeks pregnant and due on 11 August. They are busy looking for a larger car for her and a new, larger villa to live in to accommodate the baby. They are currently in an apartment. By the time we finished lunch, it was almost 3pm.

A final gallop around Dubai Mall and then back on the Metro to Deira City Centre and back to our hotel. Packing up and a bit of a rest before dinner.

We booked this room for the full night even though we will be leaving half way through the night. Too long a wait if we had to check out even at midday, as we did in Barcelona.

Will be leaving the hotel at about 11.30pm for the half hour ride to the airport (might be a bit less at that time of night) and then catching the 02.30am flight to Brisbane with Emirates. Not looking forward to the 14 hours in the air. It is usually bumpy as we pass over the two coasts of India – hope that does not disrupt the breakfast service which we should get about 2 hours after take off.

It has been a good holiday – as I am heard to say “They are all good – some are just better than others” – and this one sits in the upper half of our trips over the past 23 years.

Despite the minor shortcomings of good lounge spaces on Explorer of the Seas, it was a good cruise. Food was good, the ports we dropped into were good, we had some good tours and we enjoyed Peta and Paul’s company for the last seven days. 20 days at sea are very relaxing at any time – on the look out for the next one !

France was enjoyable – the rolling and productive countryside we saw was amazing. So much food and crop production in that area and the colours and scenery were great. We managed to travel on other than the major freeways, through small French villages and backroads (sometimes wondering where they were taking us) but found our way back on trac on each occasion. Very few people seen on the streets in these villages and you wonder what do they do to keep living in the countryside – I guess a lot of it was related to agriculture.

Trying to get a good, honest meat and 3 veges at dinner in France was almost impossible in restaurants – plenty of meat and bread with potato or the like with only smatterings of greens. The markets we saw were well stocked with all manner of fresh produce so the moral is to book places with a kitchenette and do our own cooking at home more often to get a balanced diet while on the road – but there is no fun in that when you are on holidays.

Driving in France was not too bad – just the narrow roads in places were challenging. My mind seems to have adjusted to driving on the right without any problems, having now done that in France, Italy and the USA. But I do have to say I was pleased to hand the car back after almost two weeks and close to 1600km of driving.

Barcelona was …………………..Barcelona ! Loved it and would be happy to go back there again. It is a vibrant city with great food and people.

John 14,720 steps today.

Sunday 2 June 2019 - Dubai ...and Home

Left the hotel at about 11pm on Saturday night and went through all the usual formalities to check in at T3 at Dubai International Airport. Just a huge concern and we had to literally walk kilometres to get to our Gate Lounge.

But they do not have everything right !!! The (dis)organisation at Gate Lounge C5 was disgraceful. There was clearly not enough seating within cooee of the gate lounge to accommodate all the people joining the flight in that area. People sitting on the floor, on rails, standing - it was a shemozzle. And then to cap it off, they herded us into the secure gate lounge area and the same occurred again - not enough seating. Mobs of people started to build up at the entry way because they had nowhere to go - they were literally standing shoulder to shoulder for more than 45 minutes until they started the boarding. This was an Emirates flight code shared with QANTAS. Not a good experience at all.

Once on board though, all went well with the flight, food and staff. The only issue was a fair amount of bumpiness particularly over the Indian Ocean - but they can't do much about that. the Captain had the seatbelt sign on often and sometimes for an hour or so.

Arrived ahead of schedule at 9:45pm and then into the arrivals at Brisbane airport. Again, another disgraceful performance in terms of staffing to get people out of the terminal. After baggage collection, the line to get past the Customs Officers wound itself around two of the carousels to the exit point and it took a good half an hour from getting bagage to walking out the exit door. Welcome home ....indeed !!!

Caught a taxi - $71 including tunnel tolls and arrived home at about 11:20pm.

Bed by 1am after the usual sorting out !!

End of trip - final entry !! Thanks to those who followed the adventures - hope it was somewhat entertaining. !!


7th May 2019

Wedded Bliss...
Congratulations Roz & Jim on your Wedding anniversary....47 years is a great milestone.....🍾💏 Have been enjoying your blog.
13th May 2019

Thanks Julie and Peter. Sorry for the delay in replying. We did have a nice day, on the day. We are both feeling a bit off at the moment with dry coughs and blocked sinuses. Not much we can do other than let it run its course.
7th May 2019

Keep on walking
John is waiting for the big 20,000 steps😜😄
13th May 2019

Great Cruise
Hi Jim & Roz - great cruise, saw so many places. Nice to revisit and see how they have changed. Memories of La Ramblas came floating back. Like Barcelona. We didn’t get to Valencia but overall we loved Spain as we saw the towns mainly in the central Spain and from Toledo south. Great day at Gibraltar. We saw it from the land as entered Morocco from the Spanish Port. Good your knee held up and no further downward spiral and Rozs sore throat eased and didn’t develop further to something nasty. Happy packing for the next leg of journey. Loved the photos. Continue to travel safely and enjoy.
13th May 2019

Thanks Val. Cruuae is going well but only 1 more night left. The seas have settled and it is smoorh sailing this morning in the Bay of Biscay. Unfortunately, both Roz & I have succumbed to the dreaded lurgy. Roz has had it for the past few days and I hit the wall last night. Blocked sinuses, runny nose and dry coughs. So annoying !! Hope it improves when we get out of the air conditioning.
15th May 2019

Enjoy the next leg of your journey & hope you’re both feeling better soon.
15th May 2019

Thanks Julie.

Tot: 2.409s; Tpl: 0.19s; cc: 6; qc: 44; dbt: 0.047s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.8mb