January 2018 - March 2018 Journal
  • Day66

    Southampton, UK

    March 9, 2018 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 7 °C

    It’s a very grey and gloomy Southampton that bids us welcome this morning. Our cases were collected from outside our rooms last night and will be waiting for us ashore, so all we need to manage is the hand luggage. I’ve had the great idea of delaying going to breakfast until 8am, which is the time that we have to vacate the cabins anyway. That way, we don’t have to scoff our breakfast down at 7am and get back to the cabin just to collect the bags, as we can take them with us and just stay in the restaurant until it’s time to disembark.

    As I’m leaving my cabin, Michael comes running over and gives me a big hug. I wish I could fit him in my suitcase, he’s absolutely adorable. I’ve left him a thank you card and what I hope is a generous tip. He deserves it.

    So that’s it, folks. The end of our grand voyage, and it’s been an absolutely magical journey. Over the course of 33,500 kilometres, I’ve been to 32 destinations in 20 countries, and I’ll take home some memories that I will treasure forever. I know I’m extremely lucky to have been able to do this trip—the demographic walking round the boat is proof that not many people of my age get the chance to go on a 2½ month cruise without being in a uniform. As much fun as I’ve had, this has been a personal education too. I’ve learned that I’m not a natural sailor—my proclivity for motion sickness, and my utter inability to call this genderless vessel anything other than a boat (I’m constantly being reminded that SHE is a SHIP) is proof of that. I’ve learned that some people are determined to be miserable, no matter what. And I’ve learned that wealth does not necessarily go hand in hand with either happiness or kindness of spirit. We’ve been to some very impoverished places on this trip, but along the way we’ve met nothing but warmness and welcome. It’s an example some people on here would do well to heed.

    The end of this trip also marks the end of an era in my own life—the end of a decade of study, and the start of the next step in my professional life. I still have no idea what I want to do, which terrifies me. But maybe I shouldn’t worry so much. I suspect I won’t know what I really want to do until I’m actually doing it. Maybe I’m doing it already...

    As we make our way to the gangway, I shall end this journal here. To those who have been reading along, thank you for coming on this journey with me. Hopefully you can join me on another adventure, sometime in the not-too-distant future.

    G.

    xXx
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  • Day65

    At sea

    March 8, 2018, Celtic Sea ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    So, this is our last full day. Tomorrow morning, we will arrive back in Southampton. But before then, there’s the job of packing to be done. It’s always far more enjoyable packing to go on holiday than it is packing up at the end—and having picked up all kinds of tat all the way around South America, there’s a good chance that the cases won’t close anymore! I managed to get two cases packed yesterday, which in theory means I just have the big hold-all left to pack. But there’s an alarming amount of stuff still in the drawers...

    There’s a lot of people I’m going to miss on this boat—my cabin steward, Michael, in particular. I’m definitely going to miss seeing his smiling face every day.

    I’m spending most of the afternoon packing and repacking my cases, trying to find some semblance of balance among them, as none of them are supposed to be over 22kg.

    A particular highlight today has been seeing people asking for copies of their bill at reception, then watching them go apoplectic when they see the end total. I’ve seen it happen 3 times today when I was queuing up to get more motion sickness tablets to take home, where someone is insisting that there are incorrect charges there. I can pretty much guarantee there’s no mistake—the cruise card system that they operate onboard means that there’s precious little room for human error. Thankfully the boat keeps all the signed receipts, so each moaner is dispatched with a flea in their ear. It’s just another opportunity for some people to try to get away with paying less—quite a common theme on this cruise.

    With packing nearly complete, we head to Sindhu for one final slap-up meal.
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  • Day64

    At sea

    March 7, 2018, North Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    I’m first down to breakfast out of us three this morning, which means I have about 10 minutes sat at the table by myself. Unfortunately, this gives me ample time to overhear the conversation taking place between two of the other passengers on a table across the restaurant. Frankly I wish I wasn’t able to hear what they’re saying. A full 10-minute diatribe about how awful the cruise has been, how poor the facilities are, and about how substandard the food has been. For starters, they’re telling outright lies to each other—objectively, the cruise has been exactly what it promised to be. The staff are amazing, and although some of the food hasn’t been to my taste, there’s not been anything wrong with it. Jesus, if only the boat had a plank, I’d make these old buggers walk it!

    And worst of all is that I can absolutely guarantee that these whinging old farts will have booked again to come next year, so they can bitch and moan all over again! If it’s so bloody awful, then please don’t come back! You won’t be missed!

    In an attempt to redress the balance, I’ve completed my customer satisfaction form with a supportive footnote.

    This afternoon it’s my final massage with Yanique. I think I fell asleep again—so relaxed!

    Post massage, I’m having lunch on the lido deck. It’s actually quite warm up here today, especially as the glass roof is closed. People are out in swimsuits on the loungers, making the most of the dwindling holiday atmosphere.

    Tonight is the last formal night onboard, which I am foregoing, but I have promised to straighten Mum’s hair for her. She’s giving the saree a final outing tonight. I’m planning an evening of room service pizza and packing my suitcases. We have one full day left before disembarking in Southampton, and I can’t believe how quickly these 2½ months have passed. I’m starting to get a little maudlin—it’s not that I don’t want to go home, because I’m more than ready to get off the boat and get back to my Nottingham family. It’s just that this holiday has been planned for such a long time—it was always the big upcoming event, beyond which I didn’t care to think. Now it’s nearly over, I’m faced with a bit of a chasm that must be filled with job hunting, and I still don’t have a single clue as to what I want to do. I was supposed to use this time away to think about that, but I was having such a good time, that never happened.
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  • Day63

    At sea

    March 6, 2018, North Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ⛅ 34 °C

    This has been the laziest day imaginable. I’ve literally laid in bed all day, and only got up for meals.

    I can only apologise.

  • Day62

    Terciera, The Azores

    March 5, 2018 in Portugal ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    At 7:30am, we pull into a very wet and grey-looking Praia da Vitória. Sadly, it seems that the forecasts were correct, and it looks like we’re going to be in for a rather dismal day, weather-wise. But again, I must remind myself of how lucky we’ve been with the weather all the way around on this trip, so a few days of rain are certainly not unwarranted.

    We’re booked onto the Terceira Island Discovery tour today, which from what I can make out is a 7-hour bus ride around the island, but given the look of the clouds, that’s no bad thing - at least we’ll be able to see what this island has to offer without getting thoroughly drenched. At least, that’s the plan.

    This island is... well, frankly it’s a surprise. It’s not just a mini Portugal, as I was expecting. I’m not sure if it’s the moody weather, but I’m instantly put in mind of Welsh seaside villages in deepest darkest Pembrokeshire, but with vaguely Scandinavian architecture, and palm trees placed incongruently in the gardens. There’s certainly plenty of colour around here. We’re told that the houses look especially resplendent at this time of year, as the festival of the Holy Ghost has just taken place, and it is customary to have one’s home looking its best.

    This is a volcanic island, and its origins are very clear to see.

    Our next stop is at a wine museum in Biscoitos. I’m never keen on museums, but there’s a wine tasting at the end, so we’re off the bus and raring to go. It’s not actually that bad—it’s a tiny little place, which shows the traditional way of growing grapes in the Azores. Small enclosures, separated by low dry-stone walls, offer shelter from the wind and heat retention for the grapes. The volcanic basalt, which covers all but a small hole in the ground through which the vine grows, allows rain to drain down into the soil, but also locks away moisture that the vine can draw upon, allowing for a constant supply of water to the roots. After a quick look around, we head into an enclosure for the wine tasting. We’re initially disappointed with the white table wine—which frankly could easily strip paint—but the second bottle of sweet dessert wine is a vast improvement. It tastes like a deliciously smooth sherry, and is so good, I buy a bottle to take home.

    With the wine tasting finished, we pile back into the bus and head inland, crossing the island through the centre until we reach the Monte do Brasil the remnants of a volcano on the south coast, which overlooks the city of Angra do Heroísmo. On clear days, we’re told that there’s a beautiful view over the bay, but unfortunately the mists have robbed us of that treat, and it’s drizzling to boot.

    Once at the top of the volcano, I’m unfortunately struck down with a sudden case of ‘Sindhu’s Revenge’, and am forced to make with extreme haste for the nearest bathroom. This is located 150 metres down the hill, via a treacherously slippery staircase. Needs most definitely must, so I pick my way down. Predictably, I arrive into the cubicle to find it utterly devoid of anything resembling toilet paper. A similar fate awaits me in the next cubicle. And the last one too. Bugger. In desperation, I charge into the ladies’ toilets, coughing loudly to alert any squatting damsels to my presence, but in there I find nought but a used sanitary towel for my efforts. So, I’m forced to make a sweaty dash back up all the stairs to retrieve a packet of tissues from the bus, then dash back down again, all the while praying to the old gods and the new that I neither slip and break my neck, nor cack my dacks en route.

    The upshot of this palaver is that I end up wasting the whole 15 minutes allotted for this stop, so I haven’t taken a single photo. Well, certainly not one you’d want to see. Apologies.

    We continue to the town of São Mateus da Calheta, a pretty little port on the coast with an interesting looking church overlooking the harbour. Our lunch is to be served down the road in the Terceira Mar hotel, in Angra do Heroísmo. We’re served a plateful of “Holy Ghost Soup”, a heavily salted and rather tough beef stew that is frankly begging for problems among the assembled dentures and bridgework. This is followed by an altogether more pleasing caramel flan, after which we’re bundled back into the bus and off to our next stop, which is the town centre of Angra.

    The Azores seem to be a melting pot of styles and influences, as far as the buildings go. This town seems to have a distinctly Germanic vibe to the architecture. We’re taken on a tour of the town hall, and then up into the public gardens. At this point, the heavens open completely, and we have to make a dash for the covered bandstand in the middle of the park for shelter. Thankfully, the rain doesn’t last for long, and as soon as it stops we’re given 30 minutes to ourselves for wandering around and shopping etc. We make a beeline straight for the nearest café, having been denied the chance of a post-meal beverage at lunchtime owing to time restrictions. Our friend John joins us as we attempt to order three cappuccinos and a chocolate milk in our finest Portuguese (which to be honest is basically a few Spanish words and a lot of gesticulations). We get the message across, and the proprietor flicks on the kettle and tears into a box of Nescafé instant cappuccino mix. We’ve clearly come to another quality establishment!

    Refreshed, and with our pockets only lightened by €4.50 for all four drinks, we decide to use our remaining 5 minutes to hunt downs some souvenir pins and fridge magnets. So, like Anneka Rice in a blue jumpsuit, off we dash.

    On our way back to the ship, our guide takes us through Porto Judeu. Our guide tells us that after the last earthquake destroyed this village, the government didn’t provide financial relief for reconstruction, but rather provided all the raw materials for free instead. The upshot of this is that the villagers rebuilt the place however they wanted, architecturally, without any planning restrictions, so it looks a little chaotic.

    One of the most unusual features I’ve seen on this island is the natural bathing areas dotted all around the coast, formed by the volcanic basalt, which have had steps and handrails added to them. I’m not sure if the Atlantic currents make it too unsafe to bathe otherwise, but I’ve seen them on all sides of the island.

    From here, we continue round the island to São Sabastião, where we stop to look at the frescos inside a church. Correction—the rest of the bus stop to look at the frescos in a church. I see a little shop on the corner selling pastel de nata, so I’m in like a rocket. Two nata and a can of Coke Zero for €3—these clearly aren’t tourist prices round here! The downside to my break for freedom is that the coach is no longer where we left it, so I have a 10 minute wait in the rain for it to come back. Still, at least the square is pretty.

    Back on the bus now and very damp, we drive back to Praia to re-join the ship. That’s our last port completed, and despite the weather, it’s been brilliant. The island is pretty, and very tidy—it’s phenomenally well maintained, the houses are all colourfully painted, and the roads are great. I don’t know what the average income is here, but if it’s not high, then they must be experts at getting value for money. Many Mediterranean islands could learn a thing or two from here.

    At 7pm, we bid goodbye to the Azores and start our three-day crossing back to the UK. I honestly don’t know what those sea days will have in store. Hopefully more than the previous five, or this journal will scarcely be worth writing, and utterly unworthy of reading. No, I shall use the next few days to reflect upon the trip and offer some pearls of wisdom gleaned from my 2½ month voyage.

    Or more likely I shall just bitch about some of the awful passengers on this boat, who frankly I would’ve pushed off the back of the lido deck if I’d have stood a chance of getting away with it.

    Either way, please stick around. I’m not quite done yet.
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  • Day61

    At sea

    March 4, 2018, North Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    The temperature has taken a nosedive overnight, dropping 8 degrees as we move north-east. The last stragglers are nevertheless still out on the loungers, wringing the last few rays out of the weak sun.

    By now, I’m settled into my ‘at sea’ daily routine. Breakfast at 9am, then back to the cabin. We manage to FaceTime with my brother Kevin and his family, and spend a few happy minutes watching my niece grinning at the camera—she’s so cute! We even manage a call to my other brother, Ian, who is based in Poland this week and had just landed his plane. After our chat, I head back to my own cabin to watch some video clips on YouTube.

    At 12pm, we move the clocks forwards again by an hour as we cross another time zone. We’re now just 1 hour behind GMT.

    Today’s excitement comes in dolphin form—at around 5pm, a pod of around a half-dozen dolphins are seen jumping through the waves at the bow of the ship.

    Tonight is a formal night onboard. Now, I’ve long-since vowed to abstain, preferring an evening of room service to a few hours packed into an ill-fitting suit. But tonight presents me with a quandary—we booked into the Indian restaurant for the special ‘taster menu’ for tonight long before we were told that it would be a formal night. I’m not missing out, so it’s out with the suit and hope for the best! It’s a black and white ball night tonight, too.

    The dinner is amazing as always, and most noteworthy of all—I manage to eat the whole meal without spilling any of it down my white shirt!! Full of curry and good cheer, it’s off to bed for me. We’re arriving at Praia da Vitória on the Azores at 8:00am tomorrow morning, and this is the last port on the itinerary. We’d best make the most of it!
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  • Day60

    At sea

    March 3, 2018, North Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    Waking up today I feel bizarrely sick—the movement of the boat in the water has died down, so I‘ve no idea why I should still be feeling like that. I initially decide to skip breakfast, but then I remember last time being told it’s far better to have something in your stomach when feeling sicky, so I make my way up to the Horizon Buffet at the back of the ship (the place I usually have breakfast has stopped serving by this point). I manage to keep it down, but it doesn’t make me feel any better, so I go back to bed. I have a massage booked to 2pm, and I’m very loathed to miss it.

    I wake up at 1pm and am feeling a little better, thankfully, so I can go to my massage. I’m especially glad as the treatment I’ve got booked today is a hot stones massage, which I’ve never had before, and have been highly anticipating. In case you’ve never had one before either, I’m basically going to be oiled up and then rubbed all over with these smooth rocks, which are heated to 57°C.

    It’s the most wonderful massage I’ve ever had! Honestly, so relaxing. I fell asleep on the table at one point.

    Of course, the cosmos works in a perfect balance of yin and yang, so one pleasant experience must be paid for by a bad one. As I make my way back to the spa reception desk, there’s an old crone in a mobility scooter in the process of checking in. She takes one look at me and says, “how many babies have you got in there?”, pointing at my stomach! The absolute nerve! It’s at times like this where I wish I wasn’t so frightfully British, because then—rather than laughing along with her—I could’ve legitimately pushed her out of the scooter and slashed her tyres.

    The most maddening thing of the whole encounter is that I’ve thought of the perfect response now, long after the moment has passed. I should’ve said “it’s not a baby, madam, it’s the remains of the last old bitch that made a comment like that to me”. I’ll save it for future use.

    I’m back in the cabin now, and I’m convinced that this isn’t sea sickness, as I also have a slight temperature and a headache. I’ve definitely caught some kind of bug. Oh well, I’ve managed the whole trip without falling ill so far (apart from sea sickness), so I should count my blessings and dose myself up with paracetamol.

    At 7pm, I make my way upstairs to the penthouse. Mum and Dad have invited about 22 people around, primarily people who were on the Machu Picchu trip with us. Soon the drinks and canapés are flowing freely. They’re a wonderful bunch of people, and it’s really nice to see them again, although with over twenty people in attendance it’s rather hard to get around to talk to everyone. As usual, Sayed and Santosh keep everyone’s rum punch topped up, and before long I can’t tell if it’s the boat swaying or just me. Either way, I seem to have found the cure for my headache and sickness.

    After drinks, it’s back to my cabin for dinner. Mum and Dad are going to eat in the main restaurant, but I have a burning urge to eat pizza in my pants, and people tend to complain if you try to do that in there.
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  • Day59

    At sea

    March 2, 2018, North Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Today marks the middle of our 5-day passage to the Azores. My neck is on the mend, it seems, and although the boat is still rocking quite a bit I’m managing not to feel sick.

    The loungers are getting emptier as the temperature starts to drop with our north-easterly trajectory, but there are still some people out there determined to ramp their tans up to the colour of mahogany bark.

    We didn’t have a 12pm today, but instead went straight to 1pm. The same thing happened yesterday, as we move through the time zones. As I’ve remarked before, it’s a strange thing to change the clock in the middle of the day, rather than when we’re sleeping. Still, it makes the day go faster, and frankly these sea days can’t go fast enough.

    The captain has just come on the intercom to tell us that the sea state is going to get worse tonight. God help us! We’re dining outdoors in the Beach House tonight, so our food will presumably end up on the next table. This is testing my medication to the limit. Apparently, tomorrow it’ll start to ease off again, and should be calmer by the day after. Unfortunately, the advance forecast for the Azores is wet and windy. Fingers crossed for a change to that in the next few days.

    Well, tonight is proving interesting. I’m just on my way to the Beach House at the back of the boat, and as I’m getting into the lift a guy comes out of the restaurant with wine all over him. The motion of the boat has just tipped everyone’s glasses over the tables. On arrival, I can see the staff are dashing around, and Mohammed, one of the restaurant managers, tells me that they’ve had a disaster in the galley—a particularly large wave has shook the boat with such force that half the prepared food has ended up on the galley floor, so it’s taken them an hour to reset and get the starters out. So, tonight’s dinner is going to be very leisurely paced...

    We’re also not eating outside tonight, obviously, as there’s a force 8 gale going on out there!
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  • Day58

    At sea

    March 1, 2018, North Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Sea state: rough. Bugger, that’s all I need.

    I’m awoken today by a flurry of messages on WhatsApp from my housemate showing me the snow back home. It’s bloody typical—I adore snow, though we seldom get it back in the UK, and now they’re under piles of the stuff and I’m missing it all! It’s been snowing for two days back in Nottingham, and the snow on top of our bins is at least 6” deep. To be honest, I’d sooner be trudging through that lot than being bounced around on his ship. I bet it’ll have all gone by the time I get home.

    My 2pm massage was good, although as expected I was sliding around a little bit up there. After the massage I go for a late lunch (I’m still feeling a bit icky, but I learned from last time you need to have something in your stomach), and then head back to my cabin. I’ve spent most of the day chatting with people back home, and with my ex in Portugal. Despite the cost, I’m glad I got the satellite Internet package, as I think I’d go mad on these sea days without being able to message people. It’s different to at the beginning of the trip—we had a 5-day crossing from Cape Verde to Salvador with no Internet, but there was so much to look forward to that it didn’t seem to matter. Now we have only one stop to make before we get home, and out of the next 9 days, 8 of them are going to be spent crossing an increasingly rough sea. Kinda wish I could hibernate through them!

    Dinner tonight is going to be room service in my cabin, as I’m not venturing out. I don’t think this is sea-sickness, as I’m feeling hot and headachy, and I’m coughing a lot. I suspect I’ve finally succumbed to some bug. Hopefully it won’t last for long.

    I shall endeavour to be a little more interesting tomorrow.
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  • Day57

    At sea

    February 28, 2018, North Atlantic Ocean ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    Today is day one of our 5-day Atlantic crossing to the Azores. I’ve awoken in agony, unable to move my neck. I’m not sure what’s happened—maybe the snorkelling from yesterday, or maybe these bloody pillows (far too deep and hard) have got to me after 8 weeks, but I’m presently having to turn my whole body to move my head, so I look a little odd. Thankfully I have absolutely nothing planned for today, so I’ve strapped a heat pad to it (I only had the ones for your back that fasten around your waist, so I’m using that as some travesty of a scarf. It doesn’t help the look!), and I’m retiring to my cabin.

    I’m honestly not expecting these next few days to be very exciting, especially if I’m laid up.

    By dinner time the pain has got worse, if anything. I head up to Mum and Dad’s cabin in hopes of using their jacuzzi bath, thinking the warm water might ease my neck a little. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken a bath on a moving boat before. Should be interesting, especially as there’s a fair amount of motion at the front of the boat, despite the flat-calm sea.

    It’s formal night tonight, but I’m having none of that, so I’ll be dining alone in the cabin. It’s probably for the best, the pain is making me grouchy.
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