Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Big Adventure - Reflection

We have both recently retired and of course were married in early November.    We had decided that we wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand and that we should take our time over the journey - hence the 11 weeks.  It was an amazing honeymoon.
The timescale allowed us to take things gently and to immerse ourselves in our landscape.   It has been a fantastic adventure.  Inevitably some places were less spectacular that we had expected;   other places were much more impressive than we were anticipating.
The adventure started with 4 weeks in Sydney, staying in an airbnb apartment.  That was great.   Yes we saw the normal sights, but also spent some days just wandering around, or going to the beach or enjoying the museums and culture.   I had spent a year in Sydney in 1979, so I loved revisiting places I remember from all those years ago.
The red centre is an amazing landscape - breath-taking at times.  It was just a pity the weather was not good and therefore we did not see the sunrise or sunset on Uluru.
Equally the weather was disappointing in the Barrier Reef .  The coral was grey rather than the bright colours we had been lad to expect. 
Daintree and the rainforest was a unique environment that we loved.   We also both enjoyed Airlie Beach and area.  There are some amazing islands, pristine beaches and just a very laid-back atmosphere.
Agnes Water was not quite so enjoyable  - possibly because it was school holiday time and there were huge numbers of families and children taking over the hotel pool and the local beach.
The cruise to Auckland was fine.   It allowed us to visit cities such as Dunedin and Christchurch in a hassle-free way.   The scenery at Milford Sound was breath-taking. 
We enjoyed Auckland and its beaches.  And then Hong Kong was an amazing place.
And we met some friends and relatives that we had not seen for many years - always a good thing to do.

So the adventure is over, but the many memories will stay with us forever.

The Big Adventure - Week Eleven: Hong Kong

Monday January 25th
It was still a very cold day.   We went over to Kowloon in the morning and took a walk around, in particular trying to get to the new Hong Kong Cultural Centre of which Michael was CEO until recently.   However we encountered a building site, and turned back.
We had lunch with Nick close to his office which was very pleasant.   Then we took the bus up to the peak, which gave a great view of Hong Kong, despite the cloud and rain. 

Tuesday January 26th
Today we took the train and then cable car up to the Big Buddha and Lin Po temple on Lantai.   I loved the whole area around there.   Very calm and relaxing.   In the evening we cooked dinner in the apartment.

Wednesday January 27th
This morning we headed back to Kowloon for a visit to Hong Kong museum, which gave a comprehensive story of Hong Kong from prehistoric time right up to the handover to the Chinese.   We had time for lunch then it was off to the airport for the flight home.

Thursday January 28th
We landed at London Heathrow at 4.30 am.   It had been 11 weeks since we started the adventure.  We really enjoyed the whole trip but were also in some ways glad to be heading home.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Big Adventure - Week Ten : Cruise and Auckland

Monday January 18th:   Bay of Islands
I am sure that this is an idyllic place.    That did not seem to be the case this morning as we awoke to heavy rain and strong winds   And we had to tender ashore, which was an added complication in rough seas.   After a delay, we did go ashore at Wairaga and headed by local ferry to Russell   The weather had improved and I thought that Russell,  the very first capital of New Zealand, was a charming, pretty, historical town.   It was the final day of our cruise, and a fitting place to end a tour of some of New Zealand's top places to see.
We spend the evening saying goodbye to the guys in our group.  Always a slightly artificial event.  We said how great their company had been, promised to keep in touch, yet all knew that we wouldn't.   Such is life.

Tuesday January 19th: Auckland
We disembarked early and because our room was not ready, we spent the morning in an Auckland laundrette getting our dirty clothes washed.
We then had a quiet afternoon in the hotel followed by an enjoyable meal down by Auckland harbour.

Wednesday January 20th:Auckland
It is a standard thing to do - the hop-on-hop-off bus, but it worked well.   The journey gave us a good impression of Auckland and we had interesting stops at the Technology Museum, the main Auckland Museum and the Auckland Art Gallery.

Thursday January 21st:  Auckland
We booked a ticket to go to Waiheke Island and have a wine tasting plus lunch at a local winery.    It was a lovely day.   The boat across to Waiheke, weaving through the islands, was enjoyable, the wine tasting was informative, lunch was good and we were then able to just sit in the winery garden enjoying a glass of the local produce and taking in the amazing view back to Auckland in the distance.    Once we got some energy back, we walked for about a mile down to a local beach where we went for a swim.   A great day.

Friday January 22nd:   Auckland
Another boat journey.  A shorted one this time to the suburb of Devonport.   We walked around the coast to Cheltenham beach and spent a few hours there relaxing and swimming.   This would be our last day in the sun for some time.

Saturday January 23rd
A long travel day.    Auckland to Hong Kong.   We had booked an apartment in Sheung Wan for 4 nights.   On arrival at 9pm, we were delighted to see Sue and John, the apartment owners waiting for us.   They drove us to the apartment, which saved a lot of hassle, and gave us the keys.    It is a tiny, unpretentious flat in an unpretentious area,  but it is home for the next four days.

Sunday January 24th
We met up with Nick and his partner who had been invited to lunch with friends on the island of Cheung Chau.   We joined the group and had a fun lunch in a local beachside restaurant.    The main talking point of today was that is was the coldest day in Hong Kong for 59 years.   3C and wet and windy.   I won't say it was cold, but the waiting staff at the restaurant were all dressed in coats and woolly hats!   It turned out that over 160 locals had been taken to hospital suffering from hypothermia.   Certainly we were seriously cold by the time we returned to our apartment.    Out weather during this trip had not been good, but today was by far the worst.    We have not been lucky in that regard.

The Big Adventure - Week Nine :The Cruise

Monday January 11th – at sea
Another sea day and again little to do.   Will Martin did another concert, which was equally good.  

Tuesday January 12th – The Sounds
Amazing scenery and we were fortunate to be up and close to it.    Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound.   The weather was not great, but it was great to see these amazing examples of New Zealand scenery.

Wednesday January 13th – Dunedin
We went into town and found a walking tour of the city in the morning and then a coach tour of the surrounding countryside in the afternoon.   Dunedin is a historical city with new contemporary additions.  And very Scottish of course – Scottish street names, Scottish cathedrals,  and a very large statue of Robert Burns in the city centre.   Indeed it was Burns’ nephew who founded much of the city.    And Dunedin is in a beautiful natural bay with some wonderful beaches.    A lovely city.

Thursday January 14th – Akaroa and Christchurch
The Christchurch docks have still not been rebuilt post-earthquake, so we had a tendered arrival at nearby Akaroa.   The earthquakes in 2011 and 2012 were devastating for Christchurch, both in terms of loss of life and loss of so many buildings.    But there is an opportunity, being grasped, to rebuild the city in a modern and planned way.    So it was fascinating to see a city in process of being rebuilt.   And it would be interesting to see the city in maybe five years time after all of that rebuilding is complete.

Friday January 15th – Wellington

This is  a typical capital city – rather full of tall modern buildings obstructing the older architecture.  We went on a guided tour of the Parliament Building, the Beehive, which was quite interesting.   Not a city to which I am desperate to return.

Saturday January 16th – at sea
I am pleased to have a sea day to relax after the three shore days.   However nothing much in the daily programme excites me.

Sunday January 17th - Tauranga
This is basically a stop for excursion buses to go to Rotorua.  But we have been there and decided to explore the small seaside town of Tauranga.   Good decision.   It is a very pleasant town sandwiched between two beaches.    In fact we took a local boat trip to a beach on a local island where we stayed for an hour before returning.    I had been wrestling with a bit of an issue which came to the fore today, and I didn't handle it particularly well.   Apart from that, I enjoyed Tauranga.

The Big Adventure - Week Eight : The Cruise

Sunday January 3rd:
We spent a quiet day around Noosa and Peregian.   It was somewhat cloudy, so we just spent the afternoon by the pool reading our Kindles.   Tomorrow we head back to Sydney and onward to the cruise part of the holiday.

Tuesday January 5th:
Today the cruise started.    It was pouring with rain as we departed Sydney, so our last image of the city was not as good as it might have been.  I am always rather ambivalent about cruising, but I hope I’ll enjoy the next two weeks.

This evening we had a drinks reception with our fellow Pied Piper travellers.   I was pleased that there were only 20 in the group.   Perhaps I will not be too intimidated by them and perhaps I will remember their names as the cruise progresses.   Dinner was okay.   We are settled into our cabin and quite relaxed.

Wednesday January 6th:
A sea day.  The ship is huge and completely full – over 2500 passengers.   Queues for everything.   To be honest, the list of activities was not inspiring – art auctions, quizzes, bingo,  dance classes etc.   This evening’s show was a bit bland.    And we have not been given the free drinks package that came as part of our booking – which has necessitated a lot of correspondence with Celebrity Head Office.    So it is a bit of a disappointing start to the cruise.

Thursday January 7th – Melbourne:
We met up with my cousins Yasmin and Gina in central Melbourne.  It was good to see them after so many years, even though they had a few tales of woe about illnesses within their family.   We also had time to stroll around central Melbourne and take a tram to St Kilda beach.   Back on board, the show, the Aussie boys, was excellent and we have finally been given our drinks package.   So things are looking up.

Friday January 8th – at sea:
A very quiet day reading and sorting out computer files.

Saturday January 9th – Hobart:
We took a tour to Port Arthur.  This is a couple of hours from Hobart.    It was good that this allowed us to see some of Tasmanian scenery, but unfortunately we did not return in time to see anything of Hobart.     Post Arthur was fascinating.    In 1830, this penal colony was formed to deal with the worst convicts from Sydney and Melbourne – particularly multiple offenders.    It was a tough and harsh environment, with floggings, long-term solitary confinement and some degree of violence.

Sunday January 10th – at sea
To be honest, I am not impressed by Celebrity Cruises.   The accommodation and food are fine.  The programme of events is large, but bland.   There is nothing to stimulate the mind.  The lectures are of marginal interest, many activities are chargeable and a lot of those lead to a hard sell.  So today I did very little.  The show this evening, a new Zealand singer called Will Martin, was very good.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Big Adventure - Week Seven :Queensland - Agnes Water and Peregian

Monday December 28th:
It was a long eight hour journey down the Bruce Highway.   Driving in Australia is tricky.   The roads have long, straight stretches, the speed limit is 100 km/hr, there is little traffic, the scenery seldom changes.  We out on the cruise control and there is little stimulation to the driving.   It is not surprising that there are so many accidents in Australia from drivers falling asleep.   But any way we arrived safely in Agnes Water.

Tuesday December 29th:
It rained for most of today.   We just chilled out in our room for much of the day, somewhat disappointed that the internet connection is so slow.

Wednesday December 30th:
This morning I decided to have 18 holes of golf at 1770 golf course.    It is a very tricky 9 hole course, and I hit a few balls into the woods and scrubland.  I was also somewhat taken aback when a very large lizard emerged from the undergrowth close to where I was about to hit a ball. 

  This afternoon we again went to the town beach for a couple of hours.  In the evening we had an excellent meal.

Thursday December 31st:
I had agreed to play in the weekly golf competition at 1770 golf course.   I played reasonably well and scored 30 points.  It was a fun day.   In particular, it was fun to see the kangaroos along the side of some of the holes. 


And so 2015 comes to a close.  It has been an excellent year in most respects.    We have travelled a lot, spent time in Indonesia, Spain, UK and now Australia.   We agreed to get married and had a superb wedding day.   We have, inevitably, lost a number of friends who passed away during the year.  That has been sad but also drives us to enjoy life while we still have energy and a modicum of brainpower.

Friday January 1st:
A new day and a new year.    In the past I have made many resolutions, some broken some partly kept.   I think this year I simply resolve two things -
1.  To be more aware.   Try not to lose things or forget things.  Keep focused.
2.  To live for the present moment.   To live each day in a new way.   To be where I am.  Be positive.

Today we left Agnes Water and drove down to Peregian Beach near Noosa.

Saturday January 2nd:
On a Saturday in April 1979, I stood at a street corner in Sydney rather nervously looking through the Sydney Morning Herald trying to find a room in which to stay.    I found a room in a house in Paddington with Marian and Julie.
Today, on a Saturday in 2016, some 36 years later, we met again with Marian and her husband Kenny, whom I also got to know in 1979, in their house near Brisbane.   It was great to see them after such a long gap.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

The Big Adventure - Week Six: Queensland

Monday December 21st:
After disembarking the boat, we hired a car and headed for Daintree.    Great drive along the coast to Mossman and then to the ferry over the Daintree river.

Tuesday December 22nd:
We loved our morning around Daintree.   In particular we had an early morning visit to Cow Bay before a walk along a boardwalk through the rainforest.   Then there was a boat trip along the Daintree River.
Afterwards we had a long drive to Ingham for an overnight stop.

Wednesday December 23rd:
Another long drive from Ingham to Airlie Beach.   It was great this evening to see Boyd, 19 years after we last saw each other.

Thursday December 24th:
Boyd had arranged a jet-skiing day.   It was very good of him, but I was very scared.  Totally outside my comfort zone.   Part of the trip was down a crocodile-infested river - I was just praying that I wouldn't fall off the machine.   But I didn't and we survived the day.

Friday December 25th:
Christmas Day.   We went out on a day cruise to Whitehaven Beach.    It was a brilliant day and a great way to celebrate Christmas.   We loved the swimming on one of the best beaches world.   And then a BBQ Christmas Lunch.   A relaxing, enjoyable day.

Saturday December 26th:   We had a relaxing day in and around Airlie Beach.  In the morning we drove to Shute Harbour where we had a picnic lunch.  We spent part of the afternoon relaxing in Airlie Beach lagoon.   And in the evening, we had a farewell dinner with Boyd at Barcelona restaurant, which was great.  

I had lost touch with Boyd for over 15 years.   It was great to find him again and particularly enjoyable to be able to visit him in his home town.   And to finally meet Spud, his fantastic dog.

Both Andrew and I have loved Airlie beach.   Yes is a backpackers resort and yes we feel a bit old here.   But the atmosphere is lively, the scenery is fantastic, the Whitsunday Islands are close and overall it is a lovely place.   I hope we are not too old to be able to return one day soon.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Big Adventure - Week Five: Alice Springs & Cairns

Sunday 13th December:
The bus journey from Alice to Ayers Rock (Uluru)  is a long but fascinating one.   In the afternoon we headed to Kata Tjuta, which I formerly knew as the Olgas.  I remember being stunned all those years ago by these massive rocks and they were equally stunning today.   It is an amazing place.
Sunset at Uluru was interesting even though the cloud meant that we did not see the rock light up as predicted.   Because of the weather, the evening BBQ was cancelled. 

Monday 14th December:
We left at 4.45 am to get to Uluru for sunrise.   Again the cloud prevented the classic lighting up of the rock.   We then pressed on for our tour around the base of Uluru.   It truly is one of the wonders of the natural work, so huge and stark, particularly because the surrounding area is so flat.   In 1979 I climbed the rock, but the aboriginal people do not wish us to do this these days and we respected that wish.
We went back this evening for another sunset viewing;  again the cloud cover prevented the rock from lighting up.  The BBQ did take place, but rain meant that it was brought inside and the talk about the night sky could not go ahead.  Pity.

Tuesday 15th December:
An even earlier start, at 4.15 am.   The drive to Kings Canyon took four hours and we had to be there before 9am which is when the canyon rim walk is closed due to extreme heat at this time of year.  Which is somewhat ironic as it was cool and very rainy during all of our walk.    It is still an amazing place, and a walk with some fantastic views  of the canyon itself and the Watarrka National Park.  It is not an easy walk - we were given many warnings and had to sign a disclaimer before we are allowed to undertake the walk.   And we had to carry at least 3 litres of water.    Most of which we carried all the way round - the weather (and lack of any toilet facility) meant that we did not consume a great deal of the water.   It was a great place.    Then we had another five hours in the coach before we got back to Alice Springs.

Our five days in the Red Centre were organised by AAT Kings of whom we have the highest praise.    The driver and guides were helpful and knowledgeable and all arrangements worked like clockwork.
It had been suggested that I re-read 'A Town Like Alice' by Nevil Shute, probably 45 years after I had first read it.    A good suggestion.   It was interesting to read it in the very area in which it is set.

Wednesday 16th December:
Now we head for the next leg of our adventure, the Australian East Coast.   A good flight had us in Cairns in time for dinner and a stroll around town.

Thursday 17th December:
We took a trip to Kuranda travelling by skyrail and returning by train.   Both journeys, one above the rainforest and one through the rainforest, were spectacular.  The scenery is so different to that in the Red Centre - lush and green.    We had an enjoyable day.

Friday 18th December:
We leave land now to spend three days on a boat exploring the Great Barrier Reef.   Unfortunately today was cloudy and hence the coral was grey and the water was somewhat cloudy.    We have booked a luxury cruise for three days, but have been disappointed with the boat and its limited facilities.

Saturday 19th December:
More snorkelling plus a walk along the forest on the edge if a beach on Dunk Island.    Again poor weather meant that the experience was somewhat below expectations.

Sunday 20th December:
If anything the weather has worsened.   Today we had heavy rain.    But I enjoyed snorkelling from a beach rather than from the boat.  Overall the experience has been disappointing, but it was still good to experience the Great Barrier Reef.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Big Adventure - week Four: Sydney and Alice Springs

Monday 7th December:
This morning we met my old boss, Michael Lynch for coffee in Bronte.  Great conversation and good to see him after over 10 years.    We walked round the headland to Bondi and after lunch had a couple of hours on Bondi beach.   Well you have to do that, really, when in Sydney.

Tuesday 8th December:
We started at the Museum of Sydney which gives a good overview of the early days of Sydney.  Then we met Rosemary and Lyn at the opera bar at the Opera House.   We first met Rosemary during our visit to Melbourne in 2002.    We had an excellent lunch.
In the evening, I decided to see a bit of gritty theatre at the Belvoir street theatre.   The play, Mortido, was about the drugs culture in Sydney and the movement of drugs from Mexico and Colombia.   I hugely enjoyed the evening.  The acting and direction in the play were excellent, but it was very complicated and some of the writing could I think have been more self-explanatory.   The constant scene shifting Sydney to Mexico was confusing.   I am glad I went, though.  It was a good antidote to the relentless upbeat nature of the tourist brochures.

Wednesday 9th December:
I joined the State Library of New Sough Wales a couple of weeks ago.  I love the peace and calm in this building.  There are good contemporary exhibitions, some great research material and very fact internet connections.    Which is why I am here writing this. 
Later in the day we went to Tauranga Zoo.   Not perhaps the greatest zoo in then world, but possibly the greatest view from a zoo.

Thursday 10th December:
A quiet day.  The afternoon was spent in the sun at Andrew (Boy) Charlton pool.

Friday 11th December:
Another quiet day.   This afternoon we paid our last visit to Redleaf Pool.   And had dinner at the Thai Restaurant that we like in Stanley Street.    Then it was time to do a final washing and get packed ready for our departure tomorrow.

So that's it.  Four weeks in Sydney.   It was a great experience.  We loved having time to chill out and see our local neighbourhood as well as, of course, seeming the iconic sights of Sydney.   It really is an amazing city.   Will we ever be back.  Who knows?   Depends on what fate has in store.   

But for the immediate future we are looking forward to the next part of the adventure in Alice Springs.

Saturday 12th December:
The flight was a pleasant one and we arrived on time in Alice Springs.   This afternoon we had an Alice Springs tour to the telegraph station, school of the air, flying doctor service, reptile sanctuary and Anzac Hill.    All very interesting.    I guess what was particularly interesting for me was trying to recall my visit in 1979 and how things may have changed.    To be honest there has not been a great deal of obvious change.   Of course Alice Springs has expanded, but I still remember the layout and many of the places we visited today.   Back in 1979, many of the indigenous people gathered of an evening beside the Todd River and drank a lot of alcohol.  Progress has been made there and many of them now have work within Alice Springs.   I hope at the same rate of pay as their white counterparts.
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Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Big Adventure - Week Three: Sydney

Monday 30 November:
Today we had a museum day.  We started by visiting the Australian Museum.  This is a museum of Australia fauna and flora, animals and mammals, geology and geography.   Relatively interesting, but quite a lot to take in.
We headed then to the Anzac memorial and museum.   This is very moving.   A brilliantly designed memorial and a harrowing museum charting the sacrifices made by ANZACs from the first world war through to the gulf.
One of the people I had been trying to find in Sydney was Michael Lynch, who was CEO at the Southbank centre when I worded there.   Suddenly last week I noticed that he was giving a talk on creative leadership this evening given by SAMAG, the Sydney Arts Management Advisory Group.  It was a fascinating and impressive talk and it was good to see Michael again.   He recognised me straight away and knew my name, which I was not necessarily expecting.  Mind you I think I did a good job for him at the Southbank in difficult times.    We are meeting Michael again next Monday.

Tuesday 1st December:
No trip to Sydney is complete without a Blue Mountains tour.   Which is what we did today.   I have been four times to the Blue Mountains, 1979, 1996, 2002 and again today.   The area is always impressive and the scale is vast.
Wednesday 2nd December:
Today I went off on my own to explore Sydney, to do some shopping and to climb the Harbour Bridge Tower.   It was a good day.  To begin with, I headed for Paddington where I lived for 6 months in 1979.  A lot of memories flooded back as I arrived in Hargrave Street and stood outside the house where I lived during those happy times.  I wonder what has happened to those people I met during my time there?   One of them, Marion, we hope to see in Brisbane later in our tour.
I enjoy just walking around, seeing where roads take me.    I took the bus to Circular Quay where I had lunch, wandered through the rocks area and finally climbed the tower.   I have decided not to do the bridge climb;  partly because I do not have a head for heights and partly because it costs around $300.   The tower climb cost $8.50 (senior concession!) and gives just as good a view.  And there is a fascinating exhibition in the tower of the construction of the bridge which, back in the 1930s was an amazing engineering feat.

Thursday 3rd December:
Back in the summer, as part of my aim to be a tourist in London occasionally, I visited the London Canal Museum.   It was a really interesting place.   Subsequently, Marion suggested that I read 'The Secret River' the story of Solomon Wiseman who as a young lad, worked on the London canals.  It was a hard life, and he could not earn enough to feed his wife and 2 young kids.  So like all canal workers, he pilfered a bit of the cargo.   But he was caught, convicted of theft and sentenced to transportation to Australia.   After completing his sentence, he became a free man and started a business transporting items from Sydney to the settlers up the Hawkesbury River.   He then claimed some land for himself, because a prosperous farmer and started a ferry across the Hawkesbury.    That point is now called Wisemans Ferry and we visited it today.   It is a lovely tranquil spot.   And in the local cemetery, we discovered Solomon Wiseman's grave.   So the circle from London Canal Museum to Wisemans Ferry was complete.

Friday 4th December:
We had a quiet morning sending Christmas emails to family and friends.   In the afternoon, we headed again to the Andrew Charlton pool for a relaxing couple of hours.

Saturday 5th December:
It was a warm sunny day, so we headed on the bus to Watson's Bay and walked onwards to Lady Bay, one of Sydney's naturist beaches.   The fact that it was high tide meant that we shared a very small sandy expanse with a large number of naked guys.  What can I say?   An interesting afternoon.  Afterwards we walked around the Heads from where there are some amazing view out to sea in one direction and inwards to Sydney city in the other direction.
In the evening, we had an excellent meal at the Colonial Indian restaurant in Crown Street, close to where we are staying.

Sunday 6th December:
Today we took the train down to Heathcote in the Southern Part of Sydney.   We walked for about 90 minutes along the Karloo train deep into the National Park, quite a tricky path.    At the end of that walk, we came across the Karloo Pool, which is a pool suitable for swimming at the bottom of the gorge.   The swim was wonderful.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Big Adventure - Week Two: Sydney

Monday 23rd November:
Despite my cold, I have tried to get out and about.   But I gave up today, and spend most of the day indoors.   I am hoping that I can finally shake off this cold.

Tuesday 24th November:
The cold is no better, but we had booked a day tour of the Hunter Valley vineyards, so I had to get up and go out.   By the time we had finished our second session of wine tasting, my cold was much improved!    All those tablets and lozenges did not work - but a few glasses of wine did the business.   Despite the longish journey to and from the Hunter Valley, today was an excellent day.   Our guide, Sasha, was excellent and it was good to get our of Sydney into the countryside.   Non only did we taste a huge variety of wines, but we also learned a lot.   An educational day.

Wednesday 25th November:
We had a quiet, museum day.   This morning we went to the Australia Museum, which is about the geology, geography, fauna and flora of this nation.    Then we headed for the Museum of Modern Art, which had a mixed selection of exhibits.

Thursday 26th November:
After a day at the Andrew Charlton pool, we went back to the same area this evening.   P&O had 5 cruise boats in the harbour and celebrated by providing an excellent firework display.

Friday 27th November:
Today I went off to the Australian Golf Club to watch the Australian Open Golf Championship.   Really enjoyable.   I followed Jordan Speith and Lee Westwood for a few holes and then just generally followed a number of groups at specific holes.  There was some good golf being played - and some not so good.   The eventual winner was Australian, Michael Jones.

Saturday 28th November:
We are staying in an apartment using airbnb.   This evening there was a Christmas BBQ for residents and we were allowed to go.    It was fun meeting some of the permanent residents, and the food and drink were plentiful.

Sunday 29th November:
An enjoyable day in Manly.    The ferry to Manly must be one of the best communing rides anywhere in the world.  We then took the bus to Dee Why beach where we had lunch.   Then  we went back to Manly and had a walk along the beach before taking the ferry back to Circular Quay.    A nice relaxing day.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Big Adventure - Week One: Sydney

The Australia and new Zealand Adventure
November 2015 - January 2016

Wednesday 11th November 2015:
And so the adventure begins - with a slightly fraught journey by taxi to Heathrow at rush hour.  Traffic was stationary for much of the time - never a good sign when trying to catch a plane.    But we got to Heathrow on time to board our BA flight to Sydney via Singapore.  And in time to buy some duty free.
The first leg to Singapore was fine.   We had 90 minutes at Changi airport during which time we had to leave the plane taking our hand luggage with us so that they could clean the plane.   On reboarding, Singapore Security confiscated all the duty free which was in bottles or jars of over 100ml - which was most of it.   Deeply frustrating.    The duty free shop at Heathrow, despite looking at our boarding card, had not told us that this would happen.
Anyway we tried to put this frustration behind us and managed to sleep pretty well on the final leg to Sydney.

Friday 13th November 2015:
The plane touched down at Sydney Airport at around 6.30 am.   Security was okay.  We bought an Opal card for our transport needs and caught the train to central Sydney.   Timing was good.   We had to collect the key to our apartment from Copydex store just as it was opening.  So by 8.30 am we were in the apartment which would be out home in Sydney for the next four weeks.
We had, with a degree of trepidation, decided to use Airbnb to find an apartment in Sydney rather than stay in a hotel.   We'd had a number of positive conversations, in advance of our arrival, with Neil, the apartment owner.    And the apartment was exactly as described;  a modern two bedroom apartment on the edge of the Sydney Central Business District.   It was more cluttered with Neil's stuff than we had expected.   I had thought that Neil lived somewhere else and that this apartment was always rented out, but it is obviously his only residence and therefore contains all of his staff.    Neil will be in  Cape Town during our stay.    But the apartment is clean, has all of the facilities we need and I am sure will be a good base for the next four weeks.

Saturday 14th November 2015:
Time to explore.   We took a stroll around Sydney, through the main part of the City up to Circular Quay and the Opera House.   I lived in Sydney for a year in 1979, so I could not help but reflect on my time there 36 years ago.  Of course it has changed, but not in a major way.  The view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the Opera House is a stunning as ever.

Sunday 15th November 2015:
It was a bit cool and cloudy, but we decided anyway to head for Sunday lunch at Watson's Bay.  The view out to sea was amazing, the vista in the other direction towards the city was vast and beautiful.   We just obtained a table at the famous Doyle's fish restaurant.  Yes the meal was pricey, but surely one of the best fish and chips  have ever eaten.   Moist fresh Barrimundi.  Wonderful.

Monday 16th November 2015:
It had been 36 years since I had a swim at Redleaf Pool.  In fact it has been renamed the Murray Rose pool since then, but otherwise it has not changed at all.   It is an inner city bay with a fence surrounding it to keep out sea creatures and also large waves.   I loved it today as much as I loved it all those years ago.  For someone whose swimming ability is not great, it is the perfect place to swim.

This evening we headed for a classical music concert in the Opera House.  The final piece, Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is one of my favourites.  We are still not quite over jet lag, so it was difficult to keep awake at the end, but it was a good concert and of course great to experience a concert in the iconic Opera House.

Tuesday 17th November:
We went to City Gym this morning and I had an afternoon walk to Mrs MacQarrie's chair, which is  lovely spot on the edge of the botanical gardens.  In the evening, we had an excellent Thai meal in Stanley Street.  The benefits of living on the edge of the city include the ability to walk to all of these places.

Wednesday 18th November:
I have been considering whether or not to do the bridge climb.   Of course it is listed as one of the things to do in Sydney, but I don't have a good head for heights and it does cost upwards of $300.  So today we had a stroll to the Rocks and then walked over the bridge.   Great views, and all for free.  Not sure that the bridge climb would add a lot.

Thursday 19th November:
Back to the Opera House for a performance of Hamlet.  Mind you our performance in getting there was a bit of a drama.   We failed to get off the bus at the last stop before it headed over the Harbour Bridge.  So we had to sit on the bus in heavy traffic as we went over the bridge and into the wrong half of Sydney.  Then we had to come all the way back again on another bus.  We still made it, just, to the theatre but a relaxing journey was rather more stressful than it should have been.   The performance of Hamlet was a bit disappointing.   Heavily overacted and not very original.

Friday 20th November:
Today was Sydney's hottest November day since 1982.   42C.   And certainly it was hot.   So we went to the Andrew (Boy) Charlton pool during the afternoon.   We sat on the shady side and had frequent dips in the pool.  Very relaxing.

Saturday 21st November:
Weird weather.   42C Thursday.   20C today.  We went to Bondi and did the walk around the headland to Tamarama.   Locally known as glamarama - but not on a cold day like today.

Sunday 22nd November:
We took advantage of the Sunday travel discounts.   Bus to Parammatta and boat back.   Excellent Pizza lunch in Parammatta.   Not a scenic journey outwards, but Paramatta was nice, especially down by the river.   Sauntered over to the Opera House afterwards for an indigenous music and dance performance.   Had a Prosecco overlooking the harbour and enjoying the sunset.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


After the wedding comes the honeymoon.  Though in this case we booked the holiday long before we decided to get married.   Nonetheless, the holiday started just a few days after the wedding and we are happy to call it our honeymoon.
We were married on 6th November 2015 and on 11the November we boarded a cab in Hertford and headed off to Heathrow.
Some 24 hours later, we landed in Sydney, Australia.   We are tired and somewhat jet-lagged, but also very excited.   We will be away from the UK for 11 weeks in total.
I have been neglecting this blog in recent years, but will try to update it over the next 11 weeks, mainly so that in future years I can look back and remember the adventure more vividly as the memory fades.

Sunday, 8 November 2015


On 6th November 2015, my boyfriend, Andrew, and I were married in Hertford Registry Office.   We are now officially husband and husband.
We have been together for over 18 years, but of course marriage has only recently become available to a same-sex couple in the UK.
The day was amazing.   We had a small ceremony at the Registry Office in front of three witnesses.   Then we had a wedding luncheon at the Sun Hotel in Hitchin with 52 friends.  We are grateful to those friends for coming along to help us celebrate our big day.  The whole day went very well.  We really enjoyed the day and out guests have told us that they did as well.
This has been a major milestone in my life.   I am looking forward to the future.

Friday, 24 April 2015


Now that I have resurrected my blog, I ought to start posting again.     Not sure why, but I was reflecting today on sin.   And particularly to the way the Anglican Church deals with sin.  

I know a number of regular churchgoers who are capable of some unfriendly acts.   On a Sunday, they go to church, confess their sins (silently) and obtain full forgiveness.   From Monday to Saturday they can be selfish, unkind and dishonest, but the following Sunday they again confess their sins and obtain forgiveness.  And so the cycle goes on.

I do my best every day to be humanitarian, kind and helpful.   Sometimes, it is true, I fall short.    I have nowhere to go to get forgiveness.

Who is the better person?

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Singapore to Southampton Feb-Apr 2015


To be honest, I am, and have always been, somewhat ambivalent about cruising.

There are a host of reasons; fellow passengers with whom I have little in common; the propensity to eat and drink far too much; the knowledge that I will, at best, scratch the surface of any port of call; constant selling of excursions, jewellery or spa treatments; mediocre food; seasickness - the list goes on.

Yet here I am about to embark on a cruise.  And not just a taster cruise, either.  This is a full-blown 49 night cruise.   49 nights in a small space with over 1000 other people.  It is a bit like someone who suffers from claustrophobia agreeing to spend 7 weeks in a cupboard. But I am being too negative here.   The itinerary is great and I am looking forward to seeing so many places for the first time.   I am excited about this particular adventure.

We have flown to Singapore and are now facing our home for the next seven weeks, the MS Rotterdam.  Operated by the Holland America line, this ship has been sailing for 20 years and is termed a mid-size ship.  There is no climbing wall or surf simulator, but there are a number of lounges, bars, shops and deck areas.  I am reliably informed that there will be a number of activities every day giving something for everyone, even me.  We will see. Here is a day by day account of `The Cruise`.

Day1 - Tuesday 17th February, Singapore:
The boarding process was not bad - a little waiting around both at airport and dock - but we were on board by noon. Then we went straight off again for a ride on the cable car to Sentosa Island just to experience being in Singapore.  The ship sailed at 6.30 p.m.
We had been given a good financial deal to upgrade to a Neptune Suite, and it is fabulous;  large lounge in the cabin, table and chairs plus sun loungers on the balcony. Tonight`s dinner was good.  We enjoyed the company of our dining companions as well as the English couple we had met at the airport. We met John Henry at the otherwise sparsely attended LGBT get-together and met some of the senior crew at a special reception for those in Neptune Suites.  We met the beverages manager who was sadly destined to be killed in a surfing accident in Bali in just a few days from today

Day2, Wednesday 18 February, at sea.
A sea day gave time to explore the ship and take stock.  One day down, 48 to go. Still no real problems with the ship, although the Holland America administration is not good.    All of our documents are being delivered to stateroom 7053, the one from which we were upgraded and not to our actual stateroom.  So we are missing excursion tickets, visa form and passport photocopy.  We attended the first social bridge game. The standard, inevitably, was higher than our level of play, but allowances were made.  Dinner was again excellent as was the company and the evening show was energetic. Physically I am suffering a bit; I am somewhat sunburnt having not made allowances for the strength of the equatorial sun and am awaiting the arrival of my first bowel movement of the cruise. Otherwise, I am okay and gently chilling.

Day3, Thursday February 19th, Tanjung Priok.
I never expected Jakarta to be particularly impressive, so I guess my expectations were met.  It wasn`t. But even on an organised excursion, we got a flavour of the city.  Overcrowded, bustling and frenetic.  There were some atrocious living conditions in corrugated iron shacks beside stagnant filthy canals.  Piles of rubbish abounded.  Rarely have I come across such depressing unsanitary hovels.  I have no idea how the government can go about bringing its population out of such poverty.  Especially as that population is increasing at an alarming rate.

Day 4, Friday February 20, Semarang.
Borobudur is a huge Buddhist temple, built over 1000 years ago. Yet for 800 of those years it went missing; hidden by the undergrowth.  Seeing it today, the missing years are hard to understand.  It is a huge, dominating building on the top of a hill.  It is massive and very, very impressive.  The largest Buddhist temple in SE Asia.  It may not have the public recognition of places such as Angkor Wat or Chichen Itza, but it is at least on par with these in its powerful beauty.  It was a privilege to be there.

Day 5, Saturday February 21 at sea
A sea day should be a day for doing the projects I have set myself.  But a couple of hours of Bridge, a couple of interesting talks in the theatre, an IT workshop, the evening show and meals in-between have taken up the whole day.
Day 6 Sunday, February 22, Bali.
Rather than taking the ship`s excursion, we had booked one with a company called  We looked for our coach with some trepidation.  Would it be there?  Well it was, albeit a bit smaller than expected.  There were only four of us on this tour, Keith and Tony from Canada plus us, the guide and a driver.  It was a great tour.  So much better than going round with 50 people in a large coach.  We visited Tanoh Lot seashore temple, a monkey sanctuary plus the former King`s palace.  And we were able to decide upon a couple of beer stops. Calm and unhurried.
Six p.m. found us at Ku De Ta bar watching the sun set on a red glow beyond the beach and sea.  A final beer at Mixwell gay bar completed a good day.

Day 7, Monday, February 23, Bali
Time, we decided, for a beach day.  Having ascertained that Sanur was a good place to go, we hired a taxi and off we went.  On arrival, after a coffee, we saw a hut hiring bicycles. So we spent a few hours cycling along the promenade behind the beach, stopping for a swim and a Nasi Goreng lunch.  Then back to the ship.  It was a quiet but very pleasant day..

Day 8, Tuesday, February 24, Lombok
Another beach day.  This time, and again using a local taxi, to Kuta Beach, an hour`s drive from our location at Lembar.  A beautiful, quiet beach, in front of the Novotel. We had enough time for swimming in both the sea and hotel pool, some relaxing on comfortable beach loungers, a couple of beers, and a return journey to Lambar which took as through interesting villages, rice fields, and scenery. Then a tender boat took us back to our ship in time for sailaway.
The idyll was broken, somewhat, by the announcement that the Catering Director on board, Marthinus, a South African whom we had met on our opening evening, had been killed in a surfing accident on Bali.  He was doing what he loved doing, but the death at an age of probably mid-thirties of a senior crew member on a ship where most passengers are in their seventies or eighties, is a cruel irony.  The cruise must go on, but it must be hard for his colleagues, especially Michael and Linda who were with him when he died.

Day 9, Wednesday, February 25, Komodo
There be dragons.  It was like walking back to prehistoric times.  Along our trail in Komodo, we came to a watering hole.  And surrounding the watering hole were half a dozen Komodo dragons.  Huge lizards, as if they had emerged from Jurassic Park.  Amazing.

Day 10, Thursday, February 26th, Ujung Praong.
A busy bustling, hot and somewhat dirty city.  But fascinating to just walk around, absorbing the atmosphere.

Day 11, Friday, February 27th,  At Sea
Another quiet, restful day. I was able to play tennis and also to enter some photos into the photo competition. Dr Stuart Sutherland`s talk on tectonic plates and earthquakes was excellent. 

Day 12, Saturday, February 28, Surabaya
The day was somewhat spoiled by an error on the Holland America map which wrongly tagged the bridge between the Dutch and Arab parts of town.  We gave the name to the taxi driver and he, through no fault of his, took us to the wrong part of town before getting us to the bridge.  Our fare back from the bridge was 45,000 Rupiah.  The fare to the bridge was 1,300,000 Rupiah! This is around 120 US dollars.  To be fair to Holland America, they have admitted the error in their map and refunded us with the 120 dollars. It was somewhat surreal when the meter clocked past 900,000 to 1,000,000 Rupiah. I`ve certainly never seen a taxi meter go into 7 figures.

 Day 13, Sunday, March 1, At Sea
Our time in Indonesia is over.  I guess my reflection is that it is a heavily populated country which, in its cities, reflects the problems of that high population.  But it has quiet islands full of pristine beaches, much greenery, endless rise fields, interesting wildlife and friendly people.  I`d happily return to Bali or Lombok but I` d give the cities a miss.
As for the cruise, it has been a fascinating experience.  The ship is very comfortable and well appointed.  Our Neptune Suite cabin is fantastic.  The crew have been efficient and are always smiling.  Generally fellow passengers have been interesting and willing to talk.  Most are Dutch or Canadian with a few Americans and a few Brits.  And there has been so much to do on board - bridge, lectures, tennis, quizzes, etc. etc. Plus eating and drinking of course.  This part of the cruise may be over, but we still have 5 weeks to go.  We are looking forward to that. 

Day 14, Monday, March 2, Singapore
We arrived late afternoon.  Along with new friends, Stuart, Linda and John-Henry, we plunged into the Singapore metro system, an experience in itself.  First stop was Harry`s Bar for a beer overlooking Clark Quay. Then we met old friends, Ivor and Karen, who live in Singapore, for dinner at Fatty`s, their suggested restaurant. Great food.  A final drink at Boat Quay as dusk fell, rounded off an excellent evening.

Day 15, Tuesday, March 3, Singapore
Back to Clarke Quay for a relaxing boat trip which gave a fascinating insight into Singapore, it`s history and architecture.  A walk took us to St. Andrew`s cathedral and on to Raffles Hotel, where we enjoyed a beer rather than the ubiquitous Singapore Sling.  Singapore is a fascinating place, so clean and modern.  I`d be happy to return.

Day 16, Wednesday, March 4, Kuala Lumpur
Another modern city, albeit one with major traffic problems.  I particularly enjoyed our stroll round Central Market and Chinatown.  I bought a `genuine` Nike cap for about two pounds and a `genuine` Rolex watch for around eight pounds!

Day 17, Thursday, March 5, Langkawi Island
A beautiful, quiet group of volcanic islands, full of steep cliffs and small sandy coves.  We went on a small boat along the mangrove creeks before a swim at one of the beaches on the Andaman Sea.

Day 18,  Friday,  March 6, At Sea
Time to relax, though with lots to do.  A stretch class to start the day, a morning bridge class, a meet and greet meeting, a talk on evolution, some bridge play then formal night at dinner.    There are many passengers travelling on their own.  I am not sure I could do that - I hope I never have to.   I am so lucky to have Andrew as my partner.  Sharing the cruise with him has immeasurably increased my enjoyment of each day.

Day 19, Saturday, March 7, At sea
Time passes quickly on a sea day. I have taken a book to improve my Spanish but it is hardly getting opened.

Day 20, Sunday, March 8, At sea
Three weeks since we left Hertford heading for Heathrow.  Most of the time I am relaxed and enjoying the cruise, but there are moments when I miss some aspects of being at home.   The internet on the ship, for example, is slow and expensive so we hardly use it.

Day 21, Monday, March 9, Colombo
Our 8 hour excursion lasted 13 hours; entirely due to the chaotic traffic.  Although the elephants at Pirawallah were amazing, and I was pleased to be able to visit Kandy, it was a long long day.

Day 22, Tuesday, March 10, Colombo
A leisurely day by the beach plus interesting train journeys to and from Mount Lavinia. I would like to return to Sri Lanka for a beach holiday.

Day 23, Wednesday, March 11, At sea
A quiet recovery day; back to Bridge classes. Dinner with Stuart and Linda.  Stuart Sutherland has been one of the lecturers on board; a great lecturer and great company.

Day 24, Thursday, March 12, At sea
The quality of the lectures and shows on board has been excellent. Stuart's talks on volcanos, earthquakes, tectonic plates, dinosaurs etc. have been particularly interesting.   I am having no trouble in filling my time on sea days.

Day 25, Friday, March 13, Mumbai
This is a fascinating but also frustrating city.  We had a really interesting city tour, though like all of the cities on this cruise, the chaotic traffic meant that most of our 8 hour tour was spend in the bus trying to get from one part of the city to another.  Nonetheless, our visits to the Krishna temple, the slum area, the Dhobi Ghat, Ghandi`s house and the Gateway to India, gave us a good insight into the contradictions of this city.

Day 26, Saturday, March 14, Mumbai
Today we walked round parts of Mumbai, which was the best and most intimate way to see the city.  We walked from the ship past the cricket pitches to Marine Drive, then around the Gateway area before escaping the heat by having a beer at the Taj Mahal Hotel.  Then there was a final walk back via some of the Saturday markets.  We expected, and got, noise and bustle, but were surprised I think by the fact that we were not unduly hassled and by the fact that there is a degree of modernism to the city. We` d happily return.

Day 27, Sunday, March 15, At sea
After Mumbai, a sea day was welcome.  But after tennis, bridge, sunbathing, gym and sauna, there was little spare time before dinner and the show.

Day 28, Monday, March 16, At sea
Most of our fellow passengers are interesting and pleasant.  And we have met many of them either at some of the activities or at dinner. They are nearly all from UK, USA, Canada, Australia or Holland.   Nobody seems to have any problems with us as a same sex couple.  We are on open dining, which allows us to meet many of our fellow-guests but does of course mean that we are constantly having similar conversations each evening.

Day 29, Tuesday, March 17,  At sea
Time passes very quickly on sea days.  I am particularly enjoying the tennis and playing Bridge.  And of course I am also enjoying happy hour in the Crow's Nest Bar where we can relax with new friends over a couple of glasses of Chardonnay.

Day 30, Wednesday, March 18, Suribaya, Oman
We did the Holland America excursion, Essential Salalah.  There was nothing wrong with the excursion; but there were five coaches doing the same excursion.  Over 200 people getting off together at each stop somewhat spoiled the experience.  Especially when all 200 stopped at the same time to see a frankincense tree.

Day 31, Thursday, March 19, At sea
We are in seas where pirate activity is rife, whether from Yemen or Somalia.  The ship has lookouts posted and we have no lights on deck at night.  This is somewhat disconcerting, especially as news comes through of cruise passengers being shot in the Bardo museum in Tunis and huge loss of life in suicide bombings in Yemen just a few miles from where the ship is currently sailing.  But it does give a great view of the night sky.

Day 32, Friday, March 20, At sea
We upgraded before sailing to a Neptune Suite, the best class of cabin aboard.  Of course it is fantastic; huge in size, loads of storage space, a dressing room, a lounge and a large balcony with both sunbeds and a table and chairs.  But I must not get accustomed to this luxury.  We got a good deal: that may not happen again.

Day 33, Saturday, March 21, At sea
When reflecting on the Holland America experience, I remain somewhat ambivalent.  Today we went for a special meal in the Pinnacle Grill and disappointingly service was very slow and the food was average at best.  Many of our fellow passengers have sailed many times with Holland America.  I would do so again if the itinerary was fantastic, but am not totally sold on the Holland America product.

Day 34, Sunday, March 22, At sea
Today we have a typical sea day; Tennis at 9.30, Bridge at 10.30, Team Trivia at 1.30, a destination talk at 2.30, a talk at 3.30 on the global economy, a body conditioning class at 5.00 and the show at 8.00.  And of course meals and general reading between there times.  Little time, then, for boredom.

Day 35, Monday, March 23, Al Aquabah, Jordan
Wow.  Petra was amazing.  The sheer scale of the tombs and rock carvings is awesome.  Firstly one feels so small during the walk through the narrow channel to get to the main sight; we were totally dwarfed by the high rocks on either side of the narrow channel.  Then suddenly we arrive at the Treasury.  Crafted from the rock, top-down well over 3000 years ago, it takes the breath away.  Further down, there are hosts of further carved buildings and tombs all surrounded by amazing rock formations.  It is difficult to comprehend the inventiveness and ability of the people who created this marvel.

Day 36,  Tuesday, March 24,  At sea
I always enjoyed being able, from my travels, to either send a postcard or an email to my parents so that they could follow my journey.  There are still times when I think that I must tell them about one aspect of this trip, Petra being a good example, before I remember that they are no longer around to receive my missives.  And I feel a sudden sense of loss.
But on we go, this time towards the Suez Canal.  Our scheduled stop in Sharm was cancelled because of the political situation in Egypt, though I suspect that was just an excuse to allow more time to get through the canal.

Day 37, Wednesday, March 25, At sea
Our transit of the Suez Canal was, sadly, a night-time one.  We were, though, able, by getting up at 5.30 am, to see the final couple of hours to Port Said in daylight. Now we are proceeding into the Mediterranean Sea en route to Naples.  Our early run through the canal has given us an earlier arrival in Naples, so we will now have an overnight stay in that city on Friday evening.

Day 38, Thursday, March 26, At sea
Each day the temperature is gradually reducing.  In fact not so gradually, now.  We have gone from the humid heat of Indonesia to a cool, wet day in the eastern Mediterranean.  And to a very rough sea.  The movement of the ship made this morning`s tennis quite interesting. I don` t normally play on a court which is swaying from side to side.

Day 39, Friday, March 27, Naples
After many sea days we are heading once more to a sequence of shore days. The early passage through the Suez Canal has allowed the ship to dock this evening in Naples, rather than the scheduled docking time of tomorrow morning. We had a pleasant stroll around the university area of Naples, including a couple of glasses of wine and a piece of pizza.  And we had a good Wi-Fi connection, the first for a long time.

DAY 40, Saturday, March 28, Naples
Andrew`s grandmother once gave him a first edition of Axel Munthe`s book `The Story of San Michel` a story about his life at San Michel in Capri.  45 years ago he visited San Michel.  Today we did do again.  Capri was beautiful, the villa San Michel was a calm, impressive house in Ana Capri with a truly amazing view down to the harbour and beyond to Vesuvius and Naples.  I was privileged to be here on such a sunny day as this.

Day 41, Sunday, March 29, Rome
We had a purpose today, which was fulfilled.  We took the train from Civitavecchia to Rome, then headed for the Vatican.  The queue for the Vatican Museum was long, but moved quickly; we were lucky to be there on the last Sunday of the month when entrance is free. And what a museum.  Every room is magnificent.  I was entranced by the map gallery and of course by the Sistine Chapel. 
After the museum, we filtered out to St. Peters Square. We missed the Pope giving his Palm Sunday address (he didn't wait for us) , but no matter. It has been a good day.

Day 42, Monday, March 30, Ajaccio
No big adventures.  Just a calm few hours walking round the shoreline and old town of Ajaccio. It was good to be in France and to try speaking some French.  I have not done that for a while.  I liked Ajaccio.

Day 43, Tuesday, March 31, Barcelona
We sailed into the teeth of a gale shortly after leaving Corsica.  The ship was significantly buffeted and many passengers were ill.  I managed, partly thanks to a couple of glasses of Chardonnay, to remain okay - my holistic approach to the problem!  Seasickness pills were being given out free, but sadly I had to pay for the Chardonnay.
We revised Sitges, some 15 years after we last stayed there.  We also went to the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona as well as strolling down the Ramblas.  Sitges is a resort for young visitors and Barcelona was full of young guys taking part in a big sporting event.  I suddenly felt old.  That was cured upon return to the ship!

Day 44, Wednesday, April 1 At sea
Another busy day.  Tennis, Bridge, Captain`s lunch, Team Trivia, Sunbathing, Gym and Sauna, Dinner, Show, Classical Concert. I am simply not finding time to get on with learning Spanish.

Day 45, Thursday, April 2, Gibraltar
This morning we went past Malaga and therefore our home in Spain.  But it was hazy and we were too far from shore to make out any details. We simply do not have sufficient time in Gibraltar to be able to head off for Alhaurin
Gibraltar was an interesting place.  It is some 30 years since I last visited.  I guess it has changed - as of course have I.  It certainly appears to be prosperous.  It is very British.  

Day 46, Friday, April 3, Cadiz
This was our last port of call - and a charming city.  Narrow streets, old buildings, clean beaches and some impressive churches.  We had a pleasant few hours just wandering around on this Good Friday.  I`d like to come back for a couple of days to further explore this city.

Day 47, Saturday, April 4, At sea
And so our shore days are over.  We have a couple of sea days before the cruise ends. The temperature is reducing and the wind and cloud are both increasing.  We are nearing England.
Now we have time for reflection on the cruise. I was asked today if I would cruise with Holland America again.  The answer is yes, but not an unqualified yes.  The food was okay, but not fantastic.  The Neptune Suite was excellent.  The public rooms are elegant.  The shows were generally fine.   The fact that we do not have to repack at all is a huge bonus.  The programme of activities was full though rather repetitive. I guess my main complaint was the fact that there is no innovation.  Lots of little things did not quite go right, but senior staff did not see this as a problem. Many things could be a bit better.  The information about each post of call is barely adequate, and often incorrect.  The maps are atrocious.  Much of the activities and information is produced in Seattle, and that is not a positive factor. 
Aside from the ports of call, the best part about the cruise is undoubtedly the staff, who are mainly Indonesian. They worked incredibly long hours, nothing was too much trouble and they are always smiling.  

Day 48, Sunday, April 5, At sea
I am now reflecting on cruising in general.  We have seen an amazing variety of fascinating destinations.  No other type of holiday would have allowed us to do this in similar comfort and particularly in such a hassle-free way.  And this is a generally inexpensive way of seeing a large number of ports of call.  The corollary, of course, is that we have done so somewhat superficially.  We deposit ourselves for a few hours in a remote destination, charge around seeing a few sights, rush back to the boat and tick that destination off our list of places visited.  We have seen it but we haven`t really experienced it. But the alternative would have been to never have visited some of those destinations. Also we now know of some to where we would like to return. I`d like to see India again and would also be happy to spend a few days in Jordan. Singapore is also on the return list. I have, in general, really enjoyed our time on this cruise.  Sure, I have not been turned into a permanent cruise passenger.  But in certain parts of the world, I would absolutely do this again.
And what of our fellow passengers?  Well they are probably not as old as I had feared.  Most are very friendly and pleasant.  Being part of a same-sex couple hasn`t felt to be much of a problem. In the main, they are regular cruisers. Most have been on a large number of cruises and many are heading for another cruise shortly after this one.  They have the money and the time and they like to be pampered.  So why not, I guess?  We have enjoyed the company of many of them, and my even keep in touch with one or two of them.
Many passengers are travelling on their own.  I could not do that.  To be on my own surrounded by so many people would be tough.  I couldn`t have done this cruise, and would not have enjoyed it, without Andrew`s company, his enthusiasm and his love - for which I am eternally grateful. The fact that we have enjoyed, 49 days together in such an enclosed environment, says a lot about our lasting relationship.

Day 49, Monday, April 6, Southampton - journey`s end.
We docked this morning at Southampton and were home within a couple of hours.  Reality will hit soon.  We have spent 49 days in a somewhat artificial environment.  We have been looked after superbly, and seem some amazing places.  My good fortune in being born into a safe, secure, solvent lifestyle has been reinforced when compared to the conditions in which some of the people we saw have to live. The cruise has reinforced my need to remember and respect that good fortune.   It has been a fascinating seven weeks.  I am glad I went.  Will I repeat the experience? That will of course depend on circumstances.  I would certainly not rule that out. Watch this space.