Civitavecchia – 22 June 2015

We waited until all the shore parties had left before making our way out of the ship today.  Got down the gangway to be told that the shuttle had just left.  Had a conversation with a man who had a plummy accent and had worked in Glasgow.  He didn’t actually say what he did or had done for a living, but he “had a sales manager”, so I’m guessing he was quite high up the food chain.  We talked for a while until the shuttle bus came.  The busride into town was fast, bumpy and hair raising at times.  Of course it was, we were back in Italy.  We arrived at the bus stop and were immediately set upon by taxi drivers eager to take us to Rome.  I started out saying “No, we’re not going to Rome today”, but they didn’t seem to understand that, or they weren’t interested, so I started saying random things like “No thanks, we’ve already got one” and “Hey, I’ve got a hat like that!”.  What we really needed was Murd to say something in Gaelic to them, because the first thing they say is “hello”.  When you reply, they can quickly establish what nationality you are and start their speil in that language.  Murd’s Gaelic would puzzle them I’m sure, especially with a few sweary words thrown in for good measure.  Anyway, we quickly ran the taxi gauntlet and walked into the town.

Civitavecchia is a working, industrial town, not at all given over to tourism.  It’s a bit seedy in places and not very pretty.  We walked into the main shopping area and decided that it wasn’t really going to be very interesting, so headed back to the sea front where there turned out to be a decent promenade.  Scamp loves promenades and we walked a fair distance along it.  We watched two guy practising karate or tai kwon do.  I’m not being facetious here, meaning they were fighting, no, they looked like they were performing a kata on the promenade.  Strange.  Pretty as the prom was, we decided to walk back to the bus stop and go to the ship.  We passed a wee cafe offering free Wi-Fi and stopped for a coffee and a beer.  Britain could really learn from the Europeans about using free Wi-Fi to encourage punters in to cafes. I’ve only once paid for a wireless connection and that was €3 for 60 min.  Compare that to the ship’s extortionate £1 for 2 min which equates to £30 for 60 min!  How many places in Glasgow or Embra give you truly free Wi-Fi in a cafe?  Very, very few.  So, I got connected and uploaded two days of blog with pics attached this time.  Then we headed for the bus and then back on board. 

Had lunch and sunbathed for the rest of the day.  Went to the Headliners show in the theatre.  It was quite good, not excellent, just quite good.  Yes, I know, damned by faint praise, but that’s the way it is.  For me the singing is rough and strident but the dancing and choreography is great.  Couldn’t agree on what to do with the rest of the night, but as we were both yawning, it seemed that the best thing to do was to have an early night, so once this epistle is done I’m off to beddy bies.

I don’t think I’d rush back to Civitavecchia again.  It’s pretty rough around the edges, but it is what it is, just another industrial town.  To sum it up, in one shop window I saw some swiss army knives and wilderness camping gear.  Nothing unusual there I suppose although it’s getting rarer in the UK.  The next window had machetes, short hunting bows, crossbows and throwing knives.  Hmm, camping doesn’t get tougher than this.  Thought for a while I was back in Carbrain.

Oh, one last thing.  We got talking to a couple in the theatre last night and found out they came from Croy.  Then the guy let slip that they are both Rangers supporters.  In Croy?

A day in Greece – 20 June 2015

Up early, yet again because the workies have to fix the sink in the bathroom, whilst ignoring the bashed and dented set of drawers and the dodgy bedside light and the dripping air-con outside.  Oh well, at least they’re making a start at fixing this old ship.  I think if we slap another coat of paint on the metal parts and then a coat or two of varnish on the woodwork, most of the geriatric passengers will never notice the ship is sinking.  Anyway, up at 7.00 and on deck by 7.30.  When the gangways were set up and “a secure area had been established around Oceana” we were ready to disembark and make our way into Corfu. 

We decided to get the bus in to town then walk back.  We walked around the old harbour and into the old town.  Scamp settled on a ride on the wee train.  She trainalways makes a bee line for these wee trains.  Sometimes they are a lot better than the Red Tourist bus, mainly because they go slower and give you a chance to see what the commentary is describing.  I really enjoyed the ride, but the roads around here are terrible, even compared to our potholed roads.  You sometimes have to visit somewhere like this to appreciate how fortunate you are.  After the train ride, we walked through a large park in the centre of town.  There we saw more evidence of Greece’s financial dire straits.  It didn’t look as if the place had been cleaned for weeks.  There was litter everywhere and the grass was dry and burnt looking.  No work had been done on the flower beds and there were weeds growing through the paving stones.  It must be difficult living in a country with a national debt problem.  Across the street there were horses and traps taking tourists around the town, but we didn’t bother.  We’d been on a train.  Behind the horses was a cricket pitch!  Apparently it dates back to when Britain owned or ran Greece.  It was probably Britain that showed the country how to get into debt in the first place!  (A little bit of politics there).

I’d brought my laptop with me so I could update the waiting world with this blog, so we went looking for an Internet cafe.  There were plenty of cafes offering free Wi-Fi, so we stopped at one, had a beer each and the blog was uploaded in a much faster time than the ship’s Wi-Fi.  I found out how to say “Thank You” in Greek.  It sound like “e phar ee sto” with the emphasis on the sto.  I stopped to buy some natural sponges for watercolour painting and Scamp bought a bagsheila for taking her lunch to work.  By then it was time to go back to the ship.  We walked back and although it looked like a long way, it was really a pleasant walk.  Had lunch when we got back and then sat near the pool, both of us managing to swim a bit and soak up some sun in the Jacuzzi.  Oh, yes and the sink was done, and a very nice job they’ve made of it.

We watched the start of the sailaway and then went for dinner.  Steak tonight was too well done.  It seems like a hit or a miss.  Maybe it depends on who cooks it.  Thanks to the four at the opposite table drawing back their curtains, we got to watch the scenery float past.  Not as dramatic as last night, no submarine pens, just rolling hills in the middle distance.

After dinner Scamp wanted to hear a piano recital and I swore at this slow computer and the badly written File Juggler.  It’s supposed to be the PC equivalent to Hazel (Hazel the app, that is!), but it’s nowhere nearly as clever as that.  It works – kind of, and not all the time.  Pretty pointless really.  However it passed some time until Scamp was done, then we went to the Tropical Party on the pool deck, where we used to live.  It was dire 1960s Hi Di Hi holiday camp nonsense and the wind was cooling me down, so we left.

Drink, hot chocolate and bed in that order.  Not getting up early on purpose tomorrow.  Not for nobody.  It’s Sunday, so it’s a long lie in.  That’s the plan anyway!  We can but hope.

Cat City 19 June 2015

After a quiet night’s sleep with just normal hotel noises – people talking going by, laughing, the occasional door slamming, but definitely no crashing of pans or trays, nobody dropping cutlery – we woke to another beautiful day.  We had hoped to see the entire run into Kotor, but it was in full swing by the time we got up on level 14.  What a vista.  The tree covered mountains looked a bit like Scotland, but even greener that that.  The ship took a really circuitous route into what the captain called a fjord, and that was what it looked and felt like.  Eventually we reached Kotor and after breakfast we went through the best ever tender disembarkation we have ever been on.  Everything ran like clockwork.  I must say P&O are really good at the organization thing.

Kotor is sometimes called the mini Dubrovnik and I can see why.  Like Dubrovnik it has city walls circling the old town and paved and flagged streets.  It also has a vast population of cats.  Nobody could tell us why there were so many of them, but they are everywhere.  They even have a cat museum!  We didn’t go in.  Maybe another time, and sorry Hazy, we didn’t bring any home.  We did walk around the streets and had a beer.  Walked through a fruit and veg market and a fish market.  These people are so lucky to have all this when we have Tesco and ASDA. 

After the walk, we returned to the ship.  Scamp went to sunbathe and I went for a snooze.  Later, after the sail-away we had dinner.  The older couples across from us insisted on pulling the curtains back, so we all had a view of the scenery passing by.  It was lovely.

Went to a show at night, had a drink and are just getting ready for bed because:

1. We enter a new time-zone tomorrow and lose an hour’s sleep.

2. Apparently there is damage to the sink and they have to sand it down and repaint it!  Don’t worry that one of the drawers won’t open because the runner is broken, the drawer unit is chipped and dented, the air-con in the corridor is dripping water.  Nope, the sink needs painted and we have to be out of the room for four hours.

P&O  Fur coat and nae knickers!

The Squeaky Wheel 18 June 2015

After  a bumpy night heading south from Venice, we had a bit of a swell on the sea this morning, but the sun was out and the sky was quite clear.  We were all at sea and heading for Kotor tomorrow.  In other words, a sea day.  Sea days can be as boring as you want to make them, or they can be interesting.  We sunbathed after breakfast for an hour until it was time to go dancing.  It was Rumba this morning.  We’ve both done rumba before and Scamp keeps reminding me that you have to start on beat two.  I nod my head and make concurring noises, but I’m sure she knows I don’t have a clue what it means.  I just follow her like I do with almost all dances except salsa.  Even there she tries to lead, but if she does, I mess her up by inventing new moves or more likely, new combinations.  Anyway, rumba passed with very few raised voices or harrumphs. Hmm, my spell checker seems to think that harrumph is a word!

The rest of the day was passed, as usual on a sea day with eating, drinking and more rumba.  Scamp went to a piano recital and I went sketching for an hour.  I really enjoyed the freedom of plein air sketching.  Messing around mainly with pen and ink sketches of people on the deck.  I did take some photos around the ship.  Mainly patterns of ropes and rails against the sea.  Scamp wasn’t impressed with the pianist, she said it wasn’t his best hour. 

By the time she got back, and we had a coffee, it was time to get ready for the Captain’s Ball.  That’s just a chance for the sycophants to arse lick with the captain and a chance for him to make a wee speech.  Scamp decided we would start at level 5, have a free G&T there.  Then  move up to level 6 where our restaurant is and have another free G&T there too.  Sounds like a plan to me.  We were just starting our first drink when a voice behind me, a Scottish voice, said “Nice kilt”.  I turned round and here was one of the officers in his dress uniform.  We got talking and he told us he was in charge of reception and he came from Maybole in South Ayrshire.  It’s a place we know well as we used to pass through it when we stayed in Newton Stewart.  He asked if we were having a good time on the ship and Scamp said “yes” and I said “no”.  Then we told him about the noises coming from the restaurant above us in our room.  He immediately said “Do you want another room?  I think we’ve got a couple free.”  We both looked at one another and said “Yes please.  Thank you very much.”  So to cut a long story short, we’re now in a room on deck 5 which is seven decks below where we were and there have been no sightings of elephants so far.  Great guy, and all because of a kilt.  His is Mc Gregor by the way. 

It’s true what they say, the squeaky wheel gets the grease!

Venice in the Sun – 17 June 2015

Today was a much better day than yesterday.  Today there was light cloud that soon burned off and left clear skies – no sign of rain.  We took an early vaporetto in to St Mark’s Square and walked away from the square then into one of the back streets.  From there we just wandered the streets for a while and had a coffee in a wee cafe.  Before we knew it, we found ourselves at St Mark’s Square again.  Actually, we found our way back to the little close we had sheltered in yesterday, just along from the square.  Scamp thought it would be a good idea to go left this time, past the square instead of through it.  This led us through an avenue of trees with lots of people selling the usual tourist stuff from kiosks.  I got a Bluetooth iPhone remote that seems to work very well.  We walked around the Accademia area and Scamp found an old church that had been turned into a museum for musical instruments.  Really, really interesting.  One particular exhibit showed the stages in making a violin.  I remember some of the steps from guitar making at college, but we didn’t put 40 coats of natural lacquer on the finished article.  We thought 10 coats of A/C lacquer was extreme!

We had lunch in a little Italian (of course) restaurant just off a side street.  Highlight was one poor American boy breaking two wine glasses in two separate incidents and rushing off in shame.  His dad, or at least I took it to be his dad, went after him and brought him back.  Poor boy seemed shattered, like the glasses.  Scamp had macaroni with fresh tomatoes and basil.  I had linguine a la pesto.  Mine was delicious and I think Scamp’s was too judging by the tiny amount she left.  After we left we walked further into the Accademia area and Scamp found a shop selling Murano glass bracelets, so that was her present from Venice.  I found an art shop and bought myself a sketch pad and a watercolour block.  After that, we headed back to SM’sS which is really easy to find as almost all roads lead to it.  We stopped on the way for an ice-cream.  I was trying to get a photo of Scamp in the square when I accidentally got in the way of a German bloke (poor bloke only had a Canon).  He said something rude to me in German, so I just turned round and told him to “Fuck Off!”  Fuck Off! is such a great expression, isn’t it?  It doesn’t matter what language you speak, Fuck Off! is Fuck Off!  Anyway it worked, because off he fucked!

Got back to the vaporetto place just as the boat was coming in.  Scamp nicked away to take a photo of one of the street performers dressed up in a fancy ball gown and wearing a mask.  Talking about masks, there were a lot of Japanese in Venice today and loads of them were wearing masks like surgeons wear.  We were talking about this with Derek and Sue during the week and they thought it was a fear of contracting Bird Flu.  It could be.  One of the girls I saw had a lovely lace facemask.  Pretty and functional.

Back at the ship, we had two new playmates at the dinner table.  Can’t remember her name, but Scamp says his name was Andy.  Scamp will interrogate them tomorrow if they come back.  She scared the other two away.  Tomato Cheesecake (strange) for starter, Venison for main and Limoncello Panacotta (which didn’t taste in the slightest of lemons).

Watched the sail away from the very front of the ship and it was quite a dramatic exit.  Venice is lovely.  Very expensive, but lovely.  I really hope we can come back some day.

Venice in the Rain – 16 June 2015

At last, a late rise.  We were not picking up the pilot until just after 11.00am, so for once we had the luxury of a long lie in.  Had breakfast and went for the last dance practise of this week.  It was the American Swing Jive again and we are beginning to get the steps to fit the music at last.  Then it was off to watch the show.  By 11.00am, people were already standing three deep at the rail on deck 14 forward.  Scamp and I managed to wangle our way almost to the rail and for most of the time we had a great view of the passage to the berth.  We passed close to St Mark’s Square and had a good view of the entrance to the Grand Canal.  The commentary from the entertainment officer was given in an Irish accent with little or no thought given to the Italian pronunciation of the words or names.  I could see Scamp cringe with every mispronounced.  Really, P&O, if you are going to stage a thing like this, spend some time thinking about the preparation and presentation. 

After we were secure and had received the warning not to “carry anything on board for the benefit of strangers”, we were good to go ashore.  If the foregoing warning is to be taken literally, does that mean we can carry a couple of kilos of heroin on board for a friend?  Like a lot of things in the P&O world, the phraseology is from a different age.  To allow the majority of the punters to go ashore, we had a quick lunch and then I went for a snooze while Scamp sat out on the deck and read.  Around 3.00pm we disembarked and walked the half a mile to … a bus!?  The bus was a shuttle that would take us to the vapouretto which is the bus-boat that scoots people around Venice.  The bus sat for 25minutes until it was full then drove around the ship to the other side of the dock.  Honestly, we could have walked that distance in about 15 minutes from the boat itself.  Waited another 20 minutes for the vapouretto to take us to St Mark’s Square.  The trip on the bus-boat was quite interesting.  Scamp said it was strange to be so close to the water after a week of looking down from about 50 metres.  We did notice that the sky was getting very dark and Scamp was sure she saw lightning.

Arrived a little bit along from St Mark’s Square just as the first drops of rain began to fall.  Before we could take a few steps, it was chucking it down.  We managed to get some shelter in a wee covered alley leading to a hotel, along with about 40 other folk.  Then the lightning and thunder started and the rain intensified.  Now it was really torrential.  You could hardly see across the street at the worst of it, with no chance of seeing any of the buildings across the lagoon.  The patter and banter from all those sheltering kept everybody amused.  Two young Italians wearing thin cagoules walked through to go to the hotel. One was walking in bare feet with his legs bare.  As he walked by he apparently said he had nothing on underneath.  An American girl standing next to me said she was shocked by this, but turned and stared hoping for a better look.  They say irony is lost on Americans.  It would appear to be true.

After a while the rain lessened and a few hardy souls risked it with umbrellas.  We waited a little longer as Scamp had left hers in the cabin, but the rain had almost stopped by the time we left our shelter.  We walked over the bridge to St Mark’s Square and saw the strangest sight.  There was a teenage Korean? girl in full wedding dress being photographed by a teenage boy who looked like the same nationality.  He was dressed as a groom, but was photographing the girl who was posing.  Then he set the self-timer on the camera and posed with her in strangely symmetrical poses.  I don’t have a clue what they were up to.  St Mark’s square is always full of nutters.  We saw two boys lying in a puddle and rolling around in it.  Nutters!

Walked through St Mark’s square and on towards the Rialto Bridge.  We went in to a wee cafe to write some postcards and have a slab pizza and a coffee.  I’ve always wanted to have one of these slab pizzas in a wee cafe like this.  The pizza and coffee were great and one of the postcards was written (Hazy).  Posted the card and walked over the Rialto.  Saw a bloke with a wooden tripod.  Ooh, that looked nice.  I could make one of them.

Wandered round the shops a bit more.  Scamp bought me five glass sweets.  Sort of Morano glass, but probably only sort of.  Then she decided we would have dinner at a restaurant on the side of the Grand Canal.  Scamp had Spaghetti a la Vongole and I had a Pizza Romana.  Two pizzas in one day.  Walked back to the vapouretto station and just got into the shelter when the rain came on again.  Got the boat back to the ship and were just having a cup of coffee when the thunderstorm started.  It was great watching it from the restaurant on deck 14.  We were just having coffee or hot water for Scamp.  Another day of excessive eating.

There were a lot of little things that could have been done more easily than they were by P&O today.  I’m beginning to lose faith in this company who seem to be living in the past and trying to enforce an old order in a new world.  That never works, P&O.  I don’t think we will be travelling with you again.

Looking forward to another day in Venice tomorrow.

No tears were spilt today, I’m glad to say. 

Dubrovnik 15 June 2015

It was yet another early morning.  This one was only 6.30am, so not really early.  Early enough though. Since we decided to allow the elephant next door some slack, my mood has improved.   I think I slept better last night, because I woke quite refreshed.  We got up early to watch the ship’s arrival into Dubrovnik and it was certainly worth the early rise.  There was a bit of cloud with the sun bursting through in places and the scenery was ‘very Scottish’ even if the temperature was definitely not.  23 degrees at 6.45am is most certainly not ‘Scottish’.  The colour of the trees and the cliff rocks was sensational.  As we got nearer to the town we could make out the high cable stay bridge that crosses the river.  We had been told that it was impressive, and it was.  My only regret was that the ship didn’t go under the bridge, like it does at Lisbon, but getting close to it was the next best thing.  Once we were berthed, it was time for breakfast.  The start of today’s eating extravaganza. 

We had been told that we could get a bus into town or we could walk.  The bus was €5 and according to P&O, we’d need a new mortgage to hire a taxi.  As it turned out it was €10, so not exactly a sum to break the bank.  However, we had already decided to walk into the old town.  After only one wrong turning we made it to the city walls.  Along the way we passed a fruit and veg open air market and a fish market.  Of course, by the time we were getting there, the best of the fish were already sold, but what was left was a lot fresher than the fish we see in Tesco.  Yes, I know I’ve done that rant earlier, but it really bugs me.  We also saw some lovely streetside flowers, but sadly I wasn’t concentrating enough and they were out of focus.  At the top of the last hill we saw a set of traffic lights with a gantry above where there was a countdown timer telling drivers how long they would have to wait until the lights changed.  Fantastic idea that I’ve never seen before.  If we had taken a bus or taxi into town, we wouldn’t have seen these things.  Besides, it helped work off the breakfast.

Old Dubrovnik is a beautiful place.  It appears to have been part of the film set for Game of Thrones which I haven’t read or seen.  I can however see how this place could represent a medieval fortress town.  Not nearly enough space to describe what we saw, but what I will say is that Dubrovnik is now firmly on our must visit list.

Got the bus back and had lunch on the ship.  Scamp went sunbathing and I went in search of an internet cafe to past the last few days blog posts.  Found on on he quayside and the price for one hour’s WiFi was €3.  On the ship, that would have cost a new mortgage!

Dinner tonight was black pudding with egg and bacon as starter then grilled rack of beef with Orange marmalade meringue to finish.  Walked around the ship and went to the dancing, hoping they’d play salsa, but it was the usual ‘music for the dead’.  Everything as slow as dancing through treacle.  Gave up waiting in the end.  I don’t think he liked us crashing his samba the other night.  Do I look as if I care?  Anyway, we headed up to the pool deck and joined in the Tropical Party and had a great time.  Danced salsa and bachatta  I think I would even have danced ‘dancing dad dance’.  The best entertainment of the night was two gay guys dancing like there was no tomorrow.  They really threw everything in to the dance and, like us, the seemed to be enjoying every minute.  That’s what life is all about anyway, isn’t it?

The elephant is sleeping now.  I think it must have had just as good a day as we did.  Venice tomorrow.  There will be some tears, I’m prepared for that.

All at Sea – 12 June 2015

Today we awoke to grey skies and just the occasional spot of rain and temperatures of around 23degrees.  It didn’t stop us having breakfast outside – mainly because there were no seats inside, but that’s a common problem on ‘at sea days’.  Scamp wanted to go to the ballroom class, so we trotted off to the Starlight lounge and learned the basics of Cha-Cha.  We had already a good grasp of the dance because we’d I’d tried to learn it many times in the past.  Quite enjoyed it, for once, and not just because there was nothing else to do but look for dolphins.  No, we didn’t see any, but loads of folk were adamant they had.  Captains message at 12.00 mid day said amongst other things that the ship gets 90 gallons to the mile!  Incredible figures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe afternoon continued in the same weather vein, not to be confused with a weather vane which is a totally different thing.  If anything, the wind got stronger and the temperature dropped a few degrees.  After lunch we went back for another dose of Cha-Cha.  This time there were turny bits as well as the basics.  I had had problems in the morning dancing in my sandals, but in the afternoon I danced in my shoes.  No difference.  I ended up dancing in my sox.  Ah, that was much better, if a bit more dangerous.  After P6120139the Cha-Cha lesson, Scamp wanted to go to a piano recital.  I couldn’t think of anything else to do, so I went too.  By the time it was over (Yes, I did enjoy it), we went for afternoon tea.  Life ‘on board this iron ship’  – Tom Waits quote –  is one long round of eating, snoozing and drinking.  After that we sat and watched the sea. Until you’ve tried this you will have no idea just how relaxing it is.  A great therapy.  Took some photos of the sea as reference material for a painting.  Everyone seemed to be convinced I’d seen a whale or a dolphin pod, it’s what gets photogs a bad name.  There was allegedly a pod of whales spotted this morning – again I say, allegedly.  Just another way to keep the gullible amused on a dull sea day.

By then it was time to get dressed for the black tie event, so it was kilts on time.  Nearly met the captain which was a narrow escape for him or us, you choose.  However we did speak to Olly who was a junior Second Officer and had a nice white uniform.  He seemed fairly pleasant.  Didn’t get much time to talk as the captain was beginning his pre-dinner speech, which for once was quite witty and interesting.  Dinner was good.  I had Smoked Salmon starter with a main of Duck Breast in a Cherry sauce then biscuits and cheese.  Scamp had Asparagus with Egg and Parmasan wafer for starter then Lobster then Panacotta with Strawberries cooked in Prosecco.  We’ve picked up another couple at our table as the first two have deserted us.  Was it something we said?  These two seem nicer ( I hate that word, but it’s late and it will have to do!).

After dinner we wandered round wondering what to do.  Scamp wanted a formal picture taken so we did that, then went for a drink in one of the quieter areas.  Listened to another pianist and then watched the dancing, ballroom dancing, not real dancing.  Finally I plucked up enough courage to stumble round the floor in a semblance of a Cha-Cha.  Scamp seemed pleased that I’d made the effort.

Then the strangest thing happened.  We’d found our way to the place where you get late night hot chocolate.  I’d just sat down when this American girl came over with her boyfriend/husband and said “Can I have my picture taken with you.”  I thought, why not, so she got her photo taken with a real Scotsman from Scottishland wearing his kilt.  I’m sure it’ll be on FB as I write.  Strange and funny end to a long, mostly dull day with a few bright intervals.  Weather was much the same.

Onward to Naples tomorrow, hoping for better weather.