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.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Back in the UK

We returned to the UK on Monday.  Only here for a week then we head off to Spain.   I will post my thoughts on the cruise in a couple of days.