Livorno for Pisa and Firenze – Day 4

We woke up late today, 8am which I would like to think is unlike us, but I’m sure as the cruise progresses it will become the norm.The view from the stateroom window was far more industrial than yesterday’s as I could see nothing other than cranes and shipping containers. I dithered around until Jane said it was 09:15 and if I didn’t get a move on we’d miss breakfast. Suitably focused we were in the PG restaurant well before it closed and ordered up our breakfast while we decided what to do. We hadn’t any trips booked as I didn’t fancy a 2 hour trek out to Florence by coach, but we decided to get the shuttle into Livorno and possibly get a train from there to Pisa which is only 15 minutes away.

Getting the shuttle was a right palaver, we had to queue for a ticket to board, we then had to wait for the coach to arrive, and then it was an age getting into the centre of the town because of traffic. Livorno is surprisingly pretty with a lovely Cathedral and quirky Synagogue. We ended up in the Central Market which was lovely and cool. While there we stopped for a coffee and a slice of cake in one of the many little cafes. Two Cappuccino and Nutella pastry were Euro 3.70 which felt like a bit of a steal, especially since they were so nice.
We took a circuitous route back to the coach pick up point to get the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and a little light sunbathing. We must have just missed one as it took an age for the shuttle to arrive. The journey back seemed much quicker mainly because there wasn’t any traffic.

We weren’t very hungry so I decided to skip the appetiser and just have the sandwich of the day. Jane had a cheesy Jalapeno starter and the pumpkin pasta. Anuraj decided that I should have a starter and brought me the same as Jane, have I mentioned that he’s a feeder? I’m glad he did as it was excellent, if more than a little fiery. I ended up not eating all of my sarnie though and passed on a dessert.
After lunch I headed upstairs to bag a couple of beds while Jane went to get changed into her cozzie and get me my book and earbuds. I blagged the first two beds under the shady part of the deck which meant I could lie in the shade and Jane could drag her bed out into full sun.

The sky started to look a little angry and with the promise of thunderstorms on the BBC weather site and Jane getting too hot we decided to head down into the Grills lounge for a cool drink, I had a nice cool Doombar and Jane, with a nod to our location had a nice cool Peroni. Five oclock came and it was time to have another drink. Jane had a Moscow Mule delux and I had a Rock Shandy but with ginger beer rather than lemonade – essentially a vodkaless Moscow Mule Very refreshing.

Suitability refreshed it was time for a shower and to get ready for dinner. I was looking forward to tonight’s offering of tandoori lamb chops. Jane can’t be doing with her lamb to be messed about with so was pleased to hear that she could have the rack of lamb off the A la Carte menu for one, she was less happy to find out it was half a rack instead of a full one. She did get four cutlets in her half, so was happy again. I tried the tempura prawns for starter, they were just as delicious as the first time but the tempura was now light and crispy, well done chef. My tandoori lamb was excellent with just the right amount of accompaniments to flavour the rice. Double well done chef.

After dinner we again headed to the Garden Lounge where we discovered the truth behind the folk duo performing there. Although they are from Tipperary, the name of the duo is the Newfoundland Duo, it’s their title rather than their origin. Apparently a lot of Newfoundlandiers originate from Wexford hence the associated name. Jane wanted to see the headline act in the Royal Court Theatre, the FlyRites. She dragged me along to see them on our last cruise as they were “brilliant” I was not convinced so avoided going with her this time. It turns out their first set is brilliant as she really enjoyed them again, especially Mr Bojangles.

Cannes and Antibes – Day 3

We were woken at 06:30 by the screeching of a pump of some kind just outside our stateroom. I had an alarm set as we had an early start with a tour out to Old Antibes at 08:45 but this was just a bit too shrill and early for me. It did give me a chance to get out onto the balcony and watch the sunrise over the Ile Sainte-Marguerite

Suitably showered and now awake I headed up to breakfast with Jane in  tow, I had Swiss bircher Muesli  yesterday so changed it up to smoked haddock and poached eggs this morning and Jane had the Gen Z favourite of mashed avocado on toast with poached eggs. I had prunes again as a starter, I did want a mix of figs and prunes but the ship is out of figs, something to do with an extended stay away from Southampton causing some shortages of typically British items.
Once breakfast was over we both headed down to our muster for the tour which took place in the theatre. We were anchored off Cannes so we all had to wait for the tender to transport us over to dry land and onto the coach for Antibes. It was all very painless and we disembarked the coach in Antibes by the Marina.

The first part of the tour was to walk alongside the marina, stuffed full of “gin palaces” to the main gate in the wall of Old Antibes where the tour started in earnest. The guide, Nicola, waxed lyrical about the Phonetician origins of Antibes, on through the Romans to Medieval times and finally the Grimaldis and Picasso. Ending up in the Market square before sending us on our ways to sample the delights of the town left to our own devices.

We all had to be back at the bus for 12:30 where we drove back to Cannes and were dropped off back at the harbour for the tender back to the ship. We’d decided to pop into Cannes for a bit as we had some toiletries to get and have some lunch out. We decided to eat by the harbour as I didn’t fancy walking too far and ended up in L’Assiette Provencale where we had a light lunch of Moules, Frites and Pain. It was lovely if not so light.

From there we headed off to get the toiletries which were found in the first Pharmacy we came across. Then it was time to hunt down a post box for the obligatory post cards. While looking for that we stumbled across a wine shop so decided to stock up with a couple of bottles to supplement our wine package. There isn’t any Rose on the current Commodore’s list so we opted for a couple of nice Rose’s under the guidance of the shopkeeper. We then walked up several huge hills looking for the elusive postbox but found nothing and decided to head back to the ship where we promptly found one by the Hotel D’Ville bus stop on the way back.
By the time we got back I was shattered so it was back to the stateroom for a little lie down and write up this blog, but I found we had no phone signal in the room, so had to make do with just the lie down.

Five pm came so under the pretence of needing a phone signal we decided to head up to the Commodore Club for a livener and a bit of internetting. Jane is pleased say that the cocktail aberrations of the first night have passed and the QEII cocktail she was served is excellent. My Doombar was as always excellent. The canapes were also very nice

I had spent a lot of time rushing to update this blog before we sailed off beyond the limits of the 4G signal as I wanted to save our complimentary WI-FI for our sea days. So we were a little late leaving the Commodore Club and heading back to the stateroom. I was starting to stiffen up after all the walking around Antibes and Cannes so decided on a bath rather than a shower, oooh! that was soon nice and way too relaxing. Feeling much refreshed we got dressed and headed up to the PG restaurant for dinner. Prawn cocktail started  and pork fillet main were delicious. I made the mistake of asking for extra boulangerie potatoes from Anuraj, our waiter, as I said before he’s a feeder and be brought me two extra portions which was too much.
We had a good chat with our table mates and ended up making them miss their date with the show in the theatre because we were chatting so much.

We ended up in the Garden Lounge after as there was a father and son, Newfoundland, folk duo on, and they are usually good value. It turns out that they aren’t from Newfoundland but Tipperary, they were very good though and we enjoyed the first half of their set before heading off to bed.

All at Sea – Day 2

It was a solo breakfast for me first thing, it usually is, what with the excitement of the cruise, half a bottle of Pol Acker, Commodore cocktails and shared a bottle of Montagnes 1er Cru at dinner plus port with her cheese, Jane was a little jaded and had already had the foresight to order room service. My first and only lecture for the day was at 09:15, Gloria Barnett’s chat on the weird and wonderful behaviour of sea creatures, that part was excellent. The second part on pollution at sea felt a bit more preachy even though everything she said was true and the aims laudable, there seemed to be a bit of hypocrisy in telling people on a fly cruise to lower their carbon footprint. The second lecture was to be by Phil Holt on Donald Campbell and Bluebird, but as I’ve already seen that twice before I wasn’t sure I fancied a third helping

I had arranged to meet Jane post lecture to go and hunt down a new cap, the Cunard ones are nice but $28 is a bit steep, so I think I’ll wait until tomorrow and Cannes to see what’s available there.
After our failed shopping experience we decided to head up to the Grills Terrace for some more sunbathing. We managed to bag a couple of beds, mine in the shade and Jane was in full sun. At 11am we were brought some lovely chilled fruit kebabs to snack on. It was quite warm on deck even in the shade so I headed into the lounge to read while Jane finished off.

Lunch in the PG restaurant was very nice again. I had a mackerel orzo salad followed by seafood kebabs and banoffee pie. Jane had a very fresh melon salad to start followed by the same main as me.
After lunch we went down to the Queen’s room where they were performing Cunard Street, an oratory originally written by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. It was very interesting indeed. After that we went up to the promenade deck to lounge on a steamer chair. They’ve all been refurbished and look very smart all clean and royal blue.

Jane wanted to get a little more sunbathing in so it was back up to the Grills Terrace to grab a bed. I wasn’t complaining because there would be ice creams at 15:00. When we got there, there were a lot of free beds but covered in towels. I’m not sure if people are just too lazy to throw them in the towel bin or too entitled and feel that someone can clear up after them.

We had cocktails in the Grills Lounge rather than the Commodore Club. Jane wanted to see if her issue with yesterday’s drinks were a barman problem or a recipe change. The Cosmopolitan in the tonight were much better, much more of a citrus vibe to them and the ginger Cosmopolitan she had as her second drink was lovely apparently.

I’m happy to report that canapes are in full attendance, we were served them in the Commodore Club yesterday and again tonight, but whoever thought breaded tofu made an acceptable canapĂ© need shooting! They only redeemed themselves by also serving a really delicious veg samosa along side it.

It was the first of our formal nights, with the red and gold Cunard theme. Lots of red dresses on show as well as a smattering red bow ties and cummerbunds. Dinner only gets a good from me, I had the tempura jumbo shrimp off the A la Carte menu and though they were delicious, the tempura batter was papery rather than crisp. A technical point but they’ve always been brilliant previously, I didn’t want to complain as our waiter Anuraj is a bit of a feeder and I know I’d have ended up with a second helping, and as much as I’d have been happy to have them, my waistband wouldn’t. Main was chateaubriand which was perfectly cooked, but a small portion, again I could have asked for more and Raj did offer more, I knew it was for the best not to have it.

Barcelona and Embarkation – Day 1

This is our first fly-cruise, and because we had a lot, and I mean a lot of bags, we had decided to stay in a hotel at Gatwick, dropping our bags off the night before which would allow a fuss free journey to the plane via security in the morning. It all went well until I took my phone out at reception only to find I didn’t have it on me. Find my iphone dot com said it was back home, so at least I don’t have the worry that it’s gone.
After a terrible night’s sleep, me not the hotel, we strolled through to departures and on to our gate. We were only slightly delayed leaving Gatwick and arrived in Barcelona 10 minutes late. Barcelona airport was excellent, quick through passport control and quick through the baggage hall where I removed the flight labels and affixed the pre-printed cruise labels. We had a car booked to take us to terminal D where Queen Elizabeth was berthed. The bag drop-off was painless, even if it took a few trips from cab to conveyor belt, then through security to be x-rayed, a quick photo and passport check and we boarded the ship – all very efficient.

Our cabin is on deck 4, 4089, so it was easier to climb the stairs rather than wait for a lift. There are no restrictions on passengers at the moment. so there’s no requirement for us to wear masks, although the staff all are and there doesn’t seem to be a limit to numbers in the lifts. Once we’d been to our stateroom it was time to head to muster station B and get our cards scanned, we don’t want to end up on the naughty list. That out the way we headed for lunch in the PG dining room, mainly to see if we could wangle a window seat for the cruise. Christian the maitre’d said he’d see what he could do but in the meantime we were ushered to our set table near the back of the dining room, the last of a set of three two tops. Jane was actually quite pleased with this as the views from our table were very good. So on the way out after a light lunch of calves liver and lemon tart we told the maitre’d we were happy where we were.

After lunch it was unpacking time, get more hangers time and memory foam pillow time. All that out of the way we headed back up to the Grills deck for a bit of sunbathing for Jane and a snooze for me as apparently I’m overtired and grumpy.
Commodore O’clock came along too quickly, and we missed the quiz at 16:00 in the Garden room. Jane’s not too happy with the standard of cocktails in the Commodore Club today, she’s tried a Cosmopolitan and a Margarita, both lacking in citrus apparently. I have no comparable complaints about the Doombar. If things don’t improve we’ll be taking our custom to the Grills lounge where one of our past favourite Commodore staff has been relocated. …… she says.

We went back to the stateroom via deck 2 to see if the shop was open as I needed a cap for the sun, mine was still sitting in a drawer a home. Typically it was shut as always when in port, ah well tomorrow morning then!

It was time for dinner, and suitability showered and shaved we headed up to the PG restaurant on deck 11. Dinner was excellent as always, I had a quail starter followed by a spicy Malaysian chicken dish. I asked our waiter if the chef could make it spicy, and boy did he! It was lovely, I like a fiery curry and on board dishes tend to tone down the spice for a lower common denominator, this was perfect. A dessert of chocolate fudge cake rounded the meal off nicely. Jane had a cheesy croquette followed by halibut and then a mountain of a cheese platter.

Bergen From a Distance – Monday 28th March

We arrived in Bergen at about 7am, not that it made any difference to our plans. We hadn’t any excursions booked for Bergen so had decided to stay in our room for the day.

Being stuck in the room in quarantine, you end up getting into a bit of a routine. Mainly around ordering meals, the daily round of requesting new mugs and glasses but mainly meals. We ended up waiting 90 minutes for lunch as that had gone missing, but a chasing phone call brought about by rumbling stomachs resolved that.. We had a phone call from our erstwhile quiz mates to say that they had actually won one and that they wanted to donate the prize of a bottle of wine to us to cheer us up. Thank you Sarah, Andy, Mark and Pam it will be very much appreciated.

Quarantine ! – Weekend 26th/27th March

There’s not a lot to report, quarantine is pretty dull. It’s not helped by the ships satellite signal being compromised being so far north, luckily the ship is sailing reasonably close to the coast and we have a bit of 4G to supplement the woeful WIFI signal in the new cabin. Everything about this cabin is inferior to the Grills Suite we previously had, It’s smaller obviously and that means that our bags and cases which are now all packed take up a lot of room. I don’t see any point in unpacking as we can’t go anywhere. Having the bags in the way means that there isn’t anywhere to sit, and even if there was then the TV is at the wrong angle to be viewed comfortably from the sofa. All this means that we spend an inordinate about of time in or on the bed. We had a reasonable WIFI signal in the last room.

The service we have been getting has been improving all the time, although the purser’s desk are still poor, promising to look into things and never returning calls, and seemingly indifferent to our issues. Cynthia on the concierge desk continues to excel.

Narvik – Friday 25th March

My hip has been playing up for a while with a bit more pain than I have had recently so I had decided not to leave this ship today, we hadn’t had any excursions booked so it was going to be a quiet day on board for us.

We went down for breakfast first thing before heading off to the Grills Lounge for a nice coffee. While I was sat there sipping my flat white Jane commented that I was sniffing a bit and I had noticed that I had a bit of a sore throat, so it was decided that we’d head back to the room where we had some LFT test kits and I would take a covid test. 20 minutes later and I had two bright lines at C & T showing I was Covid positive. From then on it was action stations, first calling 911 to inform the medical team. They dispatched a blue suited medic to carry out tests on both Jane and myself. Mine came back positive as expected whereas Jane was negative. This left us with two options Both of us go into quarantine or I go into quarantine and Jane into Isolation. I’m not sure what isolation would involve apart from not being cooped up with me and it’s only 5 days until we return to Southampton so we decided to get locked up together.

We packed up all our gear, donned masks and were escorted into the crew elevator and down to deck 6 where we were shown to room 6138, a standard balcony room in the quarantine area. Apart from the disappointment of going from a Grills Suite to a standard room we found that the room hadn’t been prepared to receive guests and not to same configuration as we had. There weren’t enough pillows, no bottled water and missing tea making facilities. The bed was set up as a double, where we’d had it set up as a twin to facilitate my dodgy hip.

I expressed my disappointment to the purser’s office that there weren’t any Grills quarantine rooms so we’d have to make do. The first half day was all a bit moany. Every time we went to do something we found bits missing, towels in the bathroom, dressing gowns, slippers, menus, all the things that you need when confined. That involved a lot of phoning around with us finding the purser’s office to be less than helpful, luckily as Grills passengers we have the dedicated Grills Concierge, Cynthia, who has been superb, always helpful and has been able to handle all our requests with zero fuss.

It was time now to dig in for the next five days and try not to kill each other, time will tell………….

Snowy Sea Day Heading South – Thursday 24th March

It was another quiet sea day today, only two lectures again which is disappointing. Not the lectures themselves, but the fact that there are only two per day. First up was John Mclean and the mythology of Norse Astronomy followed by Stuart Musgrave’s talk on Thor Heyerdahl and the Kon Tiki and Rah II expeditions

Because of this I’d missed out on the morning’s trivia and Jane was beside herself waiting to tell me that they had got 17/20 without me. After lunch we met up with the rest of the quizzers for the Music Intro’s quiz – 70’s intro’s were right up our street, unfortunately given the demographic it was up every elses street as wall. We were rather smug with 38/40 but we didn’t win. I had got very excited while the compere was teeing up the quiz she played the intro for Rammstein’s Sonne knowing I was probably the only person that would know that unfortunately it was 70’s and not 2000’s Industrial Metal

We chilled in the Grill’s Lounge with a coffee until it was time for the trivia quiz at 16:15, More success, this time 18/20 but it not to be our lucky day someone had gained 20/20

Ah well, it was rime to drown my sorrows in the Commodore Club with my usual Doombar. Jane had a Brandy Alexander followed by a Margarita. There have been canapes served every night in the Commodore Club so far, which is a nice return of an old tradition.

It was another non-gala night so we were up in the PG dining room at 8pm. It was lamb cutlet tonight so Jane got a basin full of those. I ordered a Thai Red Prawn Curry with extra spice, lovely. Jim at the next table was very quiet and when Jane enquired of him his wife Rosa said he had a bit of a cold.

Tipping it Down in Tromso – Wednesday 23rd March

The Red and Gold Gala dinner was a roaring success for Jane as she looked wonderful in her new frock, and I didn’t look too shabby either, if I say so myself. We were looking so good we went in search of a photographer before dinner down on deck two only to be thwarted by the long queues. Not one for queuing for anything we decided to come back after we’d eaten, and try again.

Dinner itself was very good, with Jane ordering Scallops, I nearly went for the wellington, but decided on the Langostine Ravioli from the a la carte menu to make the wine choice easier, an excellent Pouilly Fume. Dessert was a whole load more exciting with Jane having Crepes Suzette and I had Baked Alaska. They were both “flaming” nice. I have one complaint though, surely a “baked” Alaska should have been somewhere near an oven during its construction.

Firey Dessert

We had no trips planned until our chase the Aurora trip at 19:30 and with it being a port day there were no lectures schedules. The weather was miserable, so there was no chance of getting me on a shuttle bus into Tromso either. So after a hearty breakfast in the PG restaurant we headed down to the Garden Lounge for the early trivia quiz. None of our quizzing pals were around so it was down to just Jane and myself to uphold the honour. Needless to say we outdid ourselves gaining a measly eight points, 8/20. mind you this must have been a very hard quiz as the winning points were only 13/20. I don’t think we’ll be coming back from this cruise weighed down with prizes.

The rest of the day involved lounging, eating lunch and more lounging before we met up with Mark, Pam, Andy and Sarah for the afternoon trivia. We were back to our normal 13/20 score. for this one.

Our View Over Tromso

We had decided to eat in the Lido tonight, as our trip departed right on dinner time. I have to say I was not impressed at all, we had pizza from the pizza station and a salad from the salad bar, both were uninspiring with the pizza having a very hard biscuit base and the salad was just a bit meh! We were sat with Andy and Sarah and their meal of roast pork didn’t look appetising either. The choices of dessert was also limited. All in all I don’t see why people would choose to eat here in preference to the MDR.

The Northern Lights Mmmmm!

At 19;30 I limped my way down to deck A and the gangplank and waiting coaches, ready to whisk us away in search of the elusive Northern Lights. It was an hour’s drive to the car park out beyond the reach of the light pollution of Tromso. Here we would spend the next three hours shivering in the cold looking skywards. Apparently the Aurora was dispersed and everywhere but I couldn’t see it and ended up back in the coach to rest my leg. When we were given the nod that it had been spotted and although weak was there. Jane went out with the camera and came back about 30 minutes later with a bunch of photos, some of which might have the Auroa in them. All in all it was a bit underwhelming. The journey back was nice especially as the driver took us on a shortcut under the sea tunnel which enabled us to beat the other coaches back. We waited to disembark and were the last off as Jane had lost an earring and glove some time earlier. Luckily I spotted both and we were off and in the Lido grabbing a tea and nibbles from the midnight supper service.

A Cloudy Old Sea Day – Tuesday 22nd March

Last night was another Smart Attire night on the ship, which was good for me, it means another comfortable dining experience. Jane had decided to go off piste and order the duck a l’orange from the a la Carte menu. It was both huge and delicious.The portions on this cruise seem much larger than previously, even I am struggling to fit in a dessert, I have to try very hard and it’s not quite beaten me yet, but I have had a couple lunches without a starter

We woke late for breakfast, but Jane did make it upstairs to the PG even though she was very tired after getting up several times on the previous night to see if there was any Aurora about. She was massively disappointed to hear that the Captain had made an announcement that there was an Aurora at 02:30 and she’d slept through it. The Captain was making announcements on Ch41 which is the TV channel showing the Bridge camera.

I was only going to one of this morning’s lectures and I had seen John Maclean’s Solar System lecture on our August QE cruise. Stephen Musgrave gave a talk on the Russian Convoys from WWII. While I was enjoying myself down in the theatre Jane was working hard sorting out the first batch of laundry for this trip.

After my lectures, Jane’s laundry and a late lunch we headed to the Garden Lounge for the Music Trivia quiz, we really are rubbish, but we were not helped by it being a Love Songs quiz which ruled me out of answering any questions. and we ended up with 27/40 – I think 34/40 won it. We chilled out for while over a cappuccino in the grills Lounge before the Afternoon Trivia. Now you’d think that six of us would stand a fighting chance, even with Mark and Pam (bouncingwheel) from Cruise Critic it did help us. |We were just as woeful getting 13/20 in that quiz.

We worked up a bit of a thirst with all the quizzing so we answered the call of the Commodore Club for a Doombar and a Pometini before going back to the room to get changed for the Red and Gold Gala night.

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