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A Solo Traveller Sails Pirate-Infested Seas

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    A Solo Traveller Sails Pirate-Infested Seas

    This is a diary which accompanies the review of the same title which can be found at -
    http://www.cruise.co.uk/cruise-revie..._review_33784/
    It may be of interest to potential solo travellers.
    Then again, it may not...

    Trade Routes to Bombay with Voyages of Discovery

    A voyage from Egypt to India sounds a fascinating prospect and the narcissistic irony of being a solo traveller on the Love Boat is too good to pass up. Ok, so the Discovery, in her earlier incarnation, is actually the twin sister of the star of the show - but she did stand in for her occasionally.

    The confirmed itinerary is as follows:
    Safaga (Egypt), Massawa (Eritrea), Salalah (Oman), Muscat (Oman), Porbandar (India) and Mumbai (India). So, I’ll need Pounds, Nakfa, Riyal and Rupees….or probably just US dollars.
    Eritrea? I think that might be the highlight. Their currency is named after the town in the Sahel region of the coutry which was the home of the freedom fighters during the struggle for independence from Ethiopia. There used to be a cableway to transport people and goods 75 kilometres from Massawa (where we dock) to Asmara, the capital. It suffered extensive damage during World War II and was looted of materials by the British 'caretaker' administration of 1941-52, which sold the metal as scrap to Sudan and Pakistan - presumably because there was no room in the British Museum, the traditional home of such 'spoils'.

    VoD states on its homepage -
    "We stay in a destination longer, so you see more and have more time to explore."
    An almost literal overnight stop in Massawa (8pm - 12 midday is rubbish compared to 8am - 12 midnight), five and a half hours in Salalah and six hours in Porbandar doesn't support this claim - but it's still an exciting itinerary.

    There's already a queue of would-be India visitors when I arrive at the Manchester visa office early one morning. We chat about the inefficacy of the Indian Visa system (even though it seems that half the world's IT is outsourced to India). Two applicants are returnees from yesterday - they had selected the London office address instead of the Birmingham office address to be printed at the top of the form! Failings of the online form can be remedied by hand-written entries and signing the written entry underneath.

    There are articles on the web describing cruise ship experiences on the pirate route. Priceless quotes include,
    "The soup may have got cold for a while but we have heated it back up again" and
    "…passengers continued drinking champagne while listening to the liner’s pianist playing renditions of Rule Britannia."

    Monday 14/11/2011

    The porter in Hurghada wants £1 for moving the case two feet from where I’m standing by the bus hold, into the bus hold itself.
    "One?" I indicate with my middle finger, "Spin on it, Sa'hebi, spin on it.”
    We're asked to fill in a diarrhoea/vomiting/flu declaration, presumably in case such symptoms have manifested themselves since we last filled in a similar form - at check-in about seven hours earlier. During the one hour drive to Safaga I note the decorative and witty roundabouts with large motifs such as sea shells and teapots.

    Arrival processing seems to get quicker each time I go on a cruise - within five minutes I’m photographed and issued with my cruise card, after which I’m shown to my well-appointed and comfortable cabin. Efren, my cabin steward from the Philippines, introduces himself, shows me my case has arrived and hands me some literature. So, my outside cabin is inside the ship, Discovery Today contains tomorrow’s activities, and Britain Today contains yesterday’s news. I’m confused!
    The newsletter contains an insert about solos activities, and another insert about lecturers and craft leaders which the back-office has been too lazy to proof-read.

    The Seven Continents Restaurant is down on Deck 3. Tonight, seating is unassigned. I’m shown to an available table for six, and offered an impressive-looking menu. The left-hand side has suggestions from the Executive Chef, the Vegetarian Menu, Special Dietary Desserts, Always Available options and the Wine Recommendation whereas the right hand side lists the full dinner menu of Appetisers (two choices plus a salad), From The Tureen (two choices), Main Courses (three choices plus a pasta dish) and Desserts (three choices plus a selection of Ice Cream, Toppings and International Assorted Cheeses).
    My fellow diners (three men and two women) are all solo travellers from the UK, my age or older. How have they managed to arrange for us all to be at the same table for an open sitting? D asked at the shore excursion desk if there are places left for the trip to Dendera and Abydos tomorrow. They'll let her know later. I'd better ask also and excuse myself from my new friends. The Excursion Desk is closed. The girl at the adjacent Reception desk advises me to fill in a request form and drop it into the excursions mailbox anyway.
    The dinner conversation veers from the doors on Armstrong Siddeley cars to the wearing of shorts in Muscat, and from Mussolini to Gadaffi. The latter was apparently a supporter of women's education, and the ANC and the anti-apartheid movement.
    "Nothing is ever as black and white as it's portrayed," I say innocently.
    Fortunately, nobody betrayed they'd noticed my mal-appropriate-ism. Fine food and fine conversation makes for a good solo start.

    I discover that the Discovery has one serious deficiency - there isn't a wraparound deck that allows for a proper post-prandial promenade. The completion of a single circuit entails walking along Deck 7 (the mis-named Promenade Deck), climbing two flights to the Sun Deck, across that and back down two flights, back along the mis-named deck, down one flight to the Riviera Deck, across that and then back up to your starting point. It makes you wonder why the ship has a gym!

    There is extensive and attractive artwork all around including display models of the current Discovery and the famed Antarctic expedition ship of the same name. I bump into D who tells me a note under her door informed her that there are no more places for tomorrow's excursion. There is no such response in my cabin yet.

    The library, in a corner of the Discovery Lounge astern, is very well stocked with books ranging from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Third Edition). There isn't an entry in the dictionary for a Harry Potter or a Ron Weasley, but there is an entry for John Potter, a former Archbishop of Canterbury who, it declares, ordained John Wesley, a founder of the Methodist movement. A, a fellow diner, is also in the library. He thinks that Jeddah was originally part of the itinerary but had heard that there were visa problems (possibly because of the Hajj), hence the switch from Saudi Arabia to Eritrea.

    Even after midnight there's still no reply from the Excursion Desk. The guy at Reception advises me to turn up early to see if there is any last-minute availability due to cancellations.

    Tuesday 15/11/2011

    I decide against trying for the excursion. It would involve far more travelling than actual sight-seeing and I’m sure I’ll visit Egypt again. Safaga is a major route into Jeddah and therefore Mecca. The Hajj has just finished and the dockside is very busy, even at six in the morning, with returning pilgrims.

    I'm the fourth person on a table for six at lunch. My lunch companions include one of the host dancers. He's terrific entertainment - a fine fund of stories. He’s generally on duty from 5:45pm until midnight - apart from dinner his schedule is half an hour’s hoofing and a quarter of an hour’s break - and is contractually obliged, as he puts it, to "spread himself around".

    I fill out a shore excursion request for Salalah, entitled the Frankincence [sic] Trail which includes a visit to Job’s Tomb, as recommended by one of my fellow lunchers. Doh! No wonder I never received a reply last night! It wasn’t in the shore excursion mailbox that I dropped my request but in the adjacent box - the one with a brass plaque affixed which reads "FOREIGN CURRENCY DONATIONS FOR THE HOUSE WITH NO STEP CHARITY BASED IN MANILA". The girl at Reception keeps an admirably straight face.
    As if that wasn’t bad enough, I have to flee from the open decks where the blazing sun has induced an indecent display of leathery skin. I sometimes wish I was even more short-sighted than I am.

    After the lifeboat drill we are pulled away from the pier at Safaga. Eritrea is due south - so why are we reversing away in the opposite direction? If we keep this up much longer we could be entering the Suez Canal backwards. After a few minutes the forward gear is engaged. I guess someone on the bridge turned the navigation charts the right way round.

    It’s time to meet my second-sitting (as requested) dinner companions. We are a group of five solos on Table 19, three men (including a fellow diner from last night) and two women, again all from the UK. Another female would round out the round table nicely. We're all looking forward to our first port of call even if 8pm until 12 noon is stupid scheduling. We get on extremely well and the evening is a conversational and gustatory success. Solo cruise travel is not what I'd feared at all, so far.

    It's a pleasantly warm evening and the Red Sea is very calm. After a few minutes the clouds part and one of my fellow diners points out Orion's Belt, the Plough and Jupiter in the midnight sky.

    Wednesday 16/11/2011

    After breakfast we have the Code Purple drill. Muster stations for a pirate attack are different to those for the lifeboats. Disappointingly, nobody turns up wearing eye patches and I bottle out of wearing my bandana.
    “Our routeing through the Gulf of Aden follows the IRTC (Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor). The IRTC is patrolled by the Naval Forces of many countries…”
    Everybody listens very attentively.

    It's almost 11:00 and time for the first lecture of the cruise, "Mr. Waghorn's Mails To India" given by Brigadier Hugh Willing, formerly the military attaché in Oman and a pirate veteran (rather than veteran pirate) from earlier cruises. It's a fascinating and well-received lecture about a mail pioneer about whom I knew nothing.
    This is followed by a Solo Passenger Get Together Party hosted by the assistant cruise director. I chat up a woman who’s travelling with Club 80 - 130. I join those enjoying the barbecue out on the Riviera deck. Calm blue seas, sunny blue skies and the musical accompaniment of an excellent vocalist contribute to a fine environment. Uh, oh! It's the captain on the tannoy.
    "I have a very important announcement to make…."
    The vocalist and musicians stop mid-phrase and mid-note, the waiters stop mid-serve and the diners stop mid-mouthful. This can't be good news - and it isn't.
    “As you know we are operating in an unstable and volatile part of the world.
    …receiving a series of conflicting requests and demands from the port of Massawa.
    ….best interests of all concerned that we should cancel our call.
    …Voyages of Discovery will incur severe financial penalties….much of the costs of the call have been pre-funded.
    ….extra call in Fujairah.”
    This is nothing short of a disaster and of a scale far more serious than the collapse of the world economy due to the fundamental flaws of the American capitalist system. The inevitable result of greed and lies, and the concomitant loss of homes, jobs and savings are nothing compared to the loss of a new port of call. The disappointment is palpable.

    The genealogy lecture given by Paul Blake and Maggie Loughran is very engaging. It starts by explaining that the female lineage often proves more interesting than that of the male, an example being the lineage of the late Princess Diana's mother going back several generations to Eliza Kewark, a native of Bombay and mistress to an officer of the East India Company.
    The next lecture is given by Dr. Malcolm Hunter who has spent most of his working life in Africa, including Eritrea. He now lives in the third-world environs of California. Sadly the theme, “Into Eritrea - the legacy of the Italians, the Ethiopians…and the Hunters” is less relevant now but it’s still an excellent lecture.

    Our dinner table for six is completed by a female passenger from London who wasn’t comfortable with her dining companions last night and was persuaded to join our table by a fellow diner. Like the others, she is enjoyable company. I try not to let my eyes wander too obviously to the fine plunging neckline of another on our table, but I can’t help thinking how appropriate it is that she comes from Bristol! An excellent dinner is followed by the Discovery Strings Welcome Concert - a fine programme of light classical music in the Carousel Lounge. They are a Romanian trio and there is some splendid virtuoso playing.

    Thursday 17/11/2011

    What time is it? Where is everybody? Breakfast up in the Lido is very quiet and there isn't much food out. Am I too late? Should I have moved my watch on two hours instead of one? On the adjacent table is a guy I recognise from my first lunch in the restaurant. He’s mighty relieved to discover he's not in a solitary state of confusion. Didn’t the newsletter advise us to move clocks forward one hour? At the Reception desk are two women in a similarly befuddled state.
    “Excuse me,” I ask tentatively, "can you tell me what time is it and what day is it?"
    There's been a bit of a breakdown in communication. I'm told the ship’s time is 8:15, not 9:15 and today is still Thursday. Due to the revised schedule, clocks should not have been moved forward last night. "Why not" I think to myself, "surely we're still travelling in the same direction?"
    I’m confused again.

    The first Bridge for Beginners lesson starts at 9:00. We'll be learning duplicate bridge (which involves each table receiving the same deal) and the lesson introduces us to etiquette, scoring and counting. It's a lot for my time-displaced brain to take in.

    The safety lecture, "Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean" is given to an unsurprisingly large audience.
    We learn that the multi-national force, including New Zealand and China, comprises 25 ships although not all are at sea at the same time. One of the problems, apart from piracy, is the narcotics trade by dhow from Pakistan to Somalia and Kenya. Drugs as well as arms smuggling across the Arabian Sea and the Straits of Hormuz is rife. Pirates can operate far out to sea by using a hijacked 'mother' ship such as a Taiwanese trawler, and use that to widen their scope for attack. Ships are advised to use the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC) in the Gulf of Aden. It is about 500 miles long and five miles wide, has two lanes (one for west-bound and one for east-bound shipping) and is set away as much as possible from genuine local fishing fleets. We are due to enter the corridor on Friday afternoon and exit on Saturday evening. When a ransom is dropped, a counting machine is included because so much money is involved.
    It’s riveting stuff and very sobering.

    One of the afternoon lectures is given by David Barby, well-known from his TV programmes. I’d met him on the first day in port - an amiable and approachable chap. Antiques and vintage cars are his passion. They’re not mine but the lecture is extremely enjoyable.

    The Sky Deck has a small walking/jogging track. Foolishly I feel compelled to try it out until exhaustion sets in. A plaque reads, "18 TIMES AROUND THIS DECK IS 1 MILE." So that means…. in total…. I’ve completed…. 1/18th of a mile! That's quite enough for one cruise.

    Friday 18/11/2011

    It's windy on Deck 7. I imagine it's windy on the other decks also. There are four ships portside - three of which look like tankers. There's nothing at all to see on the starboard side - not even marine life which is very disappointing. I confirm it’s windy on other decks, particularly on Deck 9 forward where laundry would dry out in no time although it would ruin the view for Yacht Club diners.

    I chat with one of the hired guns - an ex-Marine of 24 years service. He works for a company providing maritime security. He boarded at Suez and disembarks at Columbo, and is one of a team of gun-toters. He tells me there were a couple of skiffs spotted this morning 20 miles away. As they drew closer a warning flare (the first in a series of escalation procedures) was fired. That's as close as they got. I notice the steel plates on the bridge wings which weren’t there when I first boarded, erected in case the bridge is fired on. He says that after Columbo he's going home to find a quiet job in B&Q, after spending the last 10 years in Afghanistan. Respect! He's reassuringly complimentary about the ship's defences.

    I chat with the brigadier out on deck. One of his lectures will discuss the Dhofar campaign. Whilst giving this lecture on a previous cruise, a helicopter pilot who saw action during the crucial Battle of Mirbat introduced himself and gave the brigadier more details about the battle. He explains that the land we can see starboard is Djibouti. Portside, the mountains of Yemen, and Perim Island at the choke point of the Bab-El-Mandeb (Gates of Sorrow), are just visible.

    A has a story to tell at lunch, previously told to the brigadier's wife who said her husband would love it -
    Four men, seated together in the restaurant car on a train across the Outback, introduce themselves.
    "I’m John St. John Smythe, ex-British Army, recently retired with the rank of brigadier. I'm married with two sons."
    "That's a coincidence," says his neighbour. "I’m Robert Foster-Jones and I also retired from the army as a brigadier. I have one son and one daughter."
    "Very curious," says the guy opposite. "I'm Alistair Forsyth, Brigadier Alistair Forsyth, retired from Her Majesty’s forces just last week. I'm married with two sons and one daughter. And what about you?" they asks the fourth member of the group.
    In a broad Aussie accent, he replies, "Ricky Marsh, ex-Australian Army. Rose to the rank of sergeant-major. Retired. Never married. Three sons. All brigadiers…"

    At 15:30 there is a maritime lecture entitled “Strange Creatures of the Red Sea”. It begins with a recipe handout for fried flying fish which our lecturer professes to be very tasty. The fish are presumed to fly to escape predators (such as desperate chip shop owners, I imagine).
    I go back to the Carousel Lounge for one more lecture, given by Dr. Hunter. His subject is one of his heroes - Gertrude Bell. I know nothing about her but that is soon rectified during the fascinating talk. She was a great traveller, particularly in Arabia and was more famous than Lawrence of the-aforementioned-region in her day.

    Dinner is preceded by a performance entitled, "These Rough Notes", selected poignant readings from letters and diaries during Scott's last expedition. I tell the brigadier joke at dinner. Like the excellent food and drink, it goes down very well.

    Saturday 19/11/2011

    I don't understand it. We're sailing between Somalia and Yemen approaching the Horn of Africa and still….nothing! No marine life, no birdlife - and no pirates. Frankly, I'm disappointed and tell the brigadier as much. He reassures me that we're not out of it yet. He thinks Oman is the nicest of all the Arab countries, closely followed by Jordan. The easternmost part of Oman has a moon-sighting team - their mission is to be the first in the Arab world to call Ramadan. His subsequent lecture on the Dhofar Campaign, particularly the Battle of Mirbat, turns out to be gripping stuff.
    The next lecture, about Freya Stark and given by Dr. Hunter, is just as fascinating. He declares that, of all his heroines he considers her to be the most outstanding - apart from his wife.

    "Ladies and Gentlemen. This is the Officer of the Watch. Please be advised that the ship's clock will be put forward by one hour tonight."
    I’ve heard that before!

    The first-night dinner table (having been such an enjoyable experience) reconvenes at the Yacht Club for drinks a few minutes before 8 o'clock. It's a jazz-themed menu. I choose:
    - Blossom Dearie's Salmon Combo
    Fresh Marinated Salmon with Six Grain Toast and Baby Mixed Leaves,
    Served with Caviar and a Dill and Mustard Dressing
    - Ella Fitzgerald's Jumpin' Tuna
    Grilled Tuna Steak on Creamed Potatoes with Wilted Spinach,
    Truffle Oil with Glazed Carrots, Asparagus Spears and Balsamic Reduction
    Unlike the others, I can’t manage any dessert. Amongst other things, we discuss the Middle East, and Catholicism. After our most excellent dinner (food and company) some of us repair to the Waves Bar out on the Riviera Deck for drinks. I learn there's a bridge session at 10 o'clock tomorrow. 10pm? Surely not! No, 10am - because now we're not scheduled to arrive in Salalah until after lunch. One of the officer's explains - the sea water is too warm! It only adds to my confusion.

    Sunday 20/11/2011

    There is an Interdenominational Church service at nine o’clock this morning. Let us pray -
    Our captain, which art on the bridge, Alex be thy name, give us this day our first landfall, etc., etc. Amen!
    His later announcement gives some sort of hope,
    "…abnormal currents and winds … course alteration to avoid small boats… may have been pirates…. sail to Muscat at 6.30pm… yesterday was Omani Day so flags may be out and colourful…"
    12:45 and still no sign of land - it looks like the tour will be Salalah By Night. Oh ye of little faith! Land Ahoy! I rush back to the cabin to change into long trousers in case the local women are overcome at the sight of my knees.

    The brigadier concludes his port-approach talk from the bridge wing with, "I hope you have a very interesting visit to this part of the world - Inshallah."
    Our dishdasha'd guide introduces himself as Rashid. He tells us that a kilo of Grade 1 frankincense used to be literally worth its weight in gold. I hadn't understood, until this revelation, the true value of the gifts brought by the Three Wise Men. (When I mentioned this to YMG after returning from the cruise she wondered whether the baby Jesus wouldn't have preferred a rattle.) The finest frankincense is white or white/green and used for medicinal purposes, e.g. drinking frankincense water, and a phial is passed round for us to see. Grade 2 frankincense is yellowish in colour and the oil is extracted for things such as perfume.
    After a half-hour drive up into the Qara mountains we arrive at Job's Tomb. Is he really buried here? It's a simple, well-tended, stone building and evokes a sense of spirituality.
    It's become obvious that we won't have time to go and see the blowhole(s) on Mughsayl Beach - a scheduled part of the shore excursion. On our way back to the ship we stop for a few minutes at a lone, twisted and gnarled frankincense tree where the growing and extraction process is explained, before ending our tour that barely lasted three hours.

    After dinner I find a note in my cabin offering a 35% rebate to all those on today’s excursions. I think it should be at least 50%.

    Monday 21/11/2011

    The newsletter carries an Important Note again on its front page about Norovirus. Has there been a problem? The crew is always cleaning and very insistent on our using sanitiser upon entering any eating area.

    A presentation and Q&A session with the Hotel Manager proves entertaining with his fund of passenger stories, such as:
    - "Why are we pulling these two little ships behind us?"
    "They're tugs helping the ship out of port."
    - "What's caviar?"
    "Fish eggs."
    "I'll have two poached, please."

    The subject of today’s excellent lecture by the brigadier is, “Oman and The Frankinsense Trade - The Scent Of History”. To add atmosphere to the proceedings, there is frankincense burning in the Carousel Lounge. By gum (that’s a resin joke), it's overpowering. The screen displays an excellent cartoon concerning the famous biblical event -
    Two women are nattering over a cuppa. One of them is saying, "A virgin birth I can believe - but three wise men…?"

    After a delicious afternoon tea I watch some passengers learning a Latin line dance in the Discovery Lounge to the tune of Voulez Vous Coucher Avec Moi!!! Is this a singles event of which I wasn't aware? I’m confused again so I think it rather unlikely ce soir, demain soir or indeed any soir in the foreseeable avenir.

    Table 19 meets up in the Discovery Lounge for the first part of tonight’s murder mystery. We take away puzzle sheets designed to help us work out whodunit and why, over dinner. Having worked out most of the clues, we are clueless how they might help us. We repair to the Discovery Lounge for part the second. The real mystery was how anybody solved it. It was ridiculously convoluted so kudos to the winning team, "Table Of Eight, Table Of Eight" (who deserved a prize for their witty name even though I'm sure the restaurant only has tables for two, four or six) for doing so. There's also a prize for the best poem or limerick based on tonight's event, or the cruise as a whole. A pentameter forms in my mind which I present to the rest of the team -
    We sailed for a week or more
    With barely three hours ashore
    Hopefully, week two
    Will give more of a clue
    Of what we came on the ship for
    They agree to present it as our entry. Strangely, it doesn’t win.

    Tuesday 22/11/2011

    How about that? It's half past eight and land is visible - mountains dropping vertiginously down to the sea. Are we actually going to have a full day ashore as scheduled? Wow! Flying fish! There may only be a couple of them but that's two more than I've seen so far. Close behind them is a speeding skiff carrying a rough-looking group wearing aprons and brandishing chip pans…

    I join three of my cruise friends on their way to Mutrah Souk along the fine, sweeping corniche with its sculpted marble wall. The sultan’s yacht is magnificent - it almost dwarfs our own ship. The souk is busy and colourful, and fragrant with spices. There is minimal hassle, making it a pleasure to stroll around. Back outside, we meet up with A's friend, Yaya, whom he met here last year. He is a striking individual - tall and dark with a well-trimmed beard. The girls think him dishy and dashing in his traditional white dishdasha. Our transportation for the day is his fine, classic, navy Mercedes. What a kind gesture. What a great guide. What a fascinating city. We all congratulate him after hearing that he has recently married. It turns out to be a wonderful day even if we arrived far too late at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque - it was prayer time so we couldn’t see the legendary one-piece carpet or the famed chandeliers.

    Wednesday 23/11/2011

    Looking out the cabin windows I see we're already docked in Fujairah. The MSC Lirica is also in town, parked in an adjacent dock against a backdrop of derricks and mountains and looks very stylish. I’m off the ship by eight o’clock and share a cab with a group of Americans - a couple from Tucson and San Diego, and a couple from Vancouver - who I haven’t met previously.

    There are posters on walls and cars declaring "40 - Spirit of the Union". That must be 40 years of the UAE. The highlight of a morning’s enjoyable wandering in the sunshine is Fujairah Fort. Sadly I won't be here for the Al Saif (Traditional Sword) Championship starting tomorrow in the arena below the fort. According to an information leaflet, a Guinness world record was set last year with "the highest throw of the saif (sword) when Hazaa Sulaiman Al Shehhi of Dibba, Fujairah, threw his sword 21.275 meters."

    There’s a change of ship’s personnel and cases are being stowed aboard trucks. Isn't that our assistant waiter? He's going back home for three months. I didn't know. I give a small tip to thank him and wish him well.

    I attend just the one lecture this afternoon. The subject is Wilfred Thesiger - the last of Dr. Malcolm Hunter's heroes and whom he met three times. He describes him as solitary and difficult but Dr. Hunter's admiration for his hero is evident.

    We may have a new captain but he’s delivering the same message - we’re behind schedule. There’s an explanatory note in our cabins. Port clearance delay… high seawater temperatures…. the current is against us…
    Our earliest arrival time in Porbandar will be 16:00, not 12:00 but we will stay there overnight. The tour to Ghandi's birthplace has been cancelled but complementary shuttle busses will pass by his house. There will be a cultural show on board during the evening. A complementary bottle of wine is a soothing gift.

    Thursday 24/11/2011

    Dr. Hunter’s lecture at 11 o’clock is entitled, “Where do nomads fit in the 21st century?” he defines nomads as, “People whose survival depends on their willingness and ability to move, usually with the seasons.” He's spent a lot of his life with nomadic tribes and even hosts conferences on the subject - appropriately enough in varying locations. It’s another fascinating lecture.

    The ships port-visit plaques are very interesting. One in particular catches my eye -
    "The Admiral of the Fleet is a time honoured and symbolic privilege practised from early times.
    Be it therefore resolved that the City of St. John’s confers upon the Captain of the Discovery, 'Freedom of the Seaport' as Admiral of the Fleet with the right in perpetuity to sail through the Narrows of the Port City of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
    However the city withholds the Admiral’s traditional right of having unruly visitors or citizens hanged on Gibbett Hill, Signet Hill."

    I read until afternoon tea, the highlight of which is an enormous Sachertorte. It's very rich but very good. A fellow passenger tells me he's just ended five days of quarantine. His wife was ill and so they haven't been able to get off the ship since the start of the cruise! I discover one of the ship’s secrets - the Secret Scone Eaters Club. They congregate in the Yacht Club, mostly on the far side out of sight to the casual passer-by from the Lido, furtively enjoying their cream tea.

    There's red and white wine at the dinner table. Which would my astronomical friend like?
    "I'm easy."
    "Yes, but would you like red or white?"
    She's suitably embarrassed. The dessert options include a Thanksgiving-inspired choice of Pumpkin Pie with Cream. Unusually, the dessert is very disappointing. Ah, well. Worse things happen at sea. Except….I am at sea!

    I catch the latter part of tonight’s enjoyable show. The Cruise Director bids us farewell as we leave.
    "Thank you for coming," says she.
    "Well, I happened to be onboard anyway," thought I.

    Tonight is the final time change - clocks should be set forward 30 minutes when retiring this evening. India here we come.

    Friday 25/11/2011

    I sit and chat with A who tells of a puzzling consultation with his doctor about a possible prostate problem -
    Doctor - "Tell me…., can you piss over a 6-foot wall?"
    A - "Er…no. No I can’t."
    Doctor - "Well then, neither can I."

    There’s an update from the bridge -
    “The Indian immigration authorities have agreed to waive the face-to-face interviews at Porbandar as we're running so late. The ETA for the pilot is 16:00 and we should be alongside at 16:45. Forty immigration personnel will be coming on board.”

    The subject of the brigadier’s afternoon lecture is “The Last Voyage of the Emden” - an extraordinary story of the raiding cruiser and her gentleman captain, Karl Friedrich Max von Müller.

    Now that was quick - only a few minutes after docking to the accompaniment of a local band there’s an announcement telling us we can go ashore. It's quite a ride into town on our battered, shocking-pink bus. The sights, sounds and smells are the proverbial assault on the senses. Cows, tuk-tuks, motorbikes and cars weave patterns around us and after about twenty minutes our bus arrives at Sudama Mandir. Around the corner is Kirthi Mandir. A plaque in the historic house reads,
    "It was in this room exactly at the place bearing the Swastika mark that Putaliba gave birth to Mohandas Karamchand Ghandi, her fourth child, on the 2nd October 1869 A.D. I.E. the 12th day of the dark half of Bhadrapada of 1925 (Vikrama Samvat.)"
    I'd like to buy a traditional Indian shirt as a souvenir. It's proves quite a task as most of the stores only offer made-to-measure and I want something off-the-peg. One of the storekeepers explains to me how to ask for what I want in Hindi. I should say, “Kurti. Ready-made. Not full length”. Remarkably, saying this in an Indian accent makes me understood to all and I eventually I find one that looks good and fits well.

    The culture show after dinner is presented by the chaotic but hypnotic (therefore, authentically Indian) Mahiras Mandal Chaya performing music, song and dance. The dance includes some stick dancing and sword dancing ending with the inevitable and obligatory (though I know not why) audience participation.

    It’s good to be back in India.

    Saturday 26/11/2011

    I'm up and having a light breakfast in the Lido by eight o'clock. It's a sea day so why am I up so early? I chat with M. She’s paying to stay on for the next leg to Bangkok. The opportunity to visit Burma (about which many of the passengers are very excited) is too good to miss. I envy her.

    Table talk at lunch centres on Formula 1. One couple recount being at a practise session when Michael Schumacher span off and all the Brits stood up and cheered wildly.

    I buy a copy of the Soup cookbook that Reception is selling. The proceeds go to their Manila-based charity who might appreciate my second contribution rather more than my first.

    It’s the Farewell Party tonight.
    “We usually start off with a review of the cruise,” says the captain in a sardonic tone to much laughter. “This has been a challenging cruise…”
    He apologises for all the things that have gone wrong. It’s certainly the worst cruise I’ve ever been on - but it’s still been superb.
    I pop back to the cabin before dinner. There’s a comments sheet to fill in. I think of asking at Reception for more paper, much more paper...

    It’s a truly fine last dinner for Table 19 (some of us are in the Yacht Club tomorrow night) and all the restaurant diners, concluding with a raucous and enthusiastically received Baked Alaska parade. I thank our senior waiter for everything and slip a few dollars into his hand.
    In the Additional Comments section of the comments sheet I write, “Where do I start… ?” and leave it at that.

    Sunday 27/11/2011

    Two years after my first visit I’m back in Mumbai. I succumb to one of the beseeching taxi drivers inside the port. I want to try and see stuff I didn’t manage to see on my previous visit. Top of my list is the famous Dhobi Ghat laundry although I first want to re-visit the Gateway of India. The driver persuades me to look in a couple of stores nearby. He gets 100 Rupees as baksheesh for every visitor he brings in. It’s a bit of a nuisance but I don’t mind looking for another kurti.
    The atmosphere at the Gateway is as vibrant as it was last time. We drive on to the wonderful Dhobi Ghat. The busy laundry workers are happy for me to wander anywhere and everywhere taking photos, even on the corrugated tin roofs, and they’re also very happy to pose. During the ride back to the ship the driver claims he has to pay the police a bribe to get into the port. I wouldn’t doubt it - India’s reputation for corruption at all levels is shocking. He only asked for a small fare so I make sure his healthy tip covers any unofficial expenses.

    After a quick lunch in the Lido comprising delicious Spicy Red Bean Soup with lots of equally delicious bread, I’m ready to explore again. My second succumbing to the port taxis is too much to take. I agree $20 for a return trip to Malabar Hill and insist on no baksheesh stops, but to no avail. The driver is an annoying little pleader. I demand he stop the cab. I get out and make my own way to the port gate where I ask a kiosk owner how much I should pay for a taxi to the Hanging Gardens, and ask if he could write down the destination in Hindi. He says it shouldn’t be more than 150 Rupees although the driver parked nearby asks for 200 which is about $4. It’s a bargain as well as a memorably horn-honking, chaotic ride through Mumbai’s insane traffic.

    A fabulous day’s wanderings ends as the sun starts to set, back in Colaba for a fabulous afternoon tea in the Sea Lounge of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. I have a window seat overlooking the Gateway of India. The brigadier and his party are at an adjacent table. I tell him how much I’ve enjoyed his talks - a sentiment he modestly appreciates. One of the magnificently dressed doormen at the hotel entrance finds me a taxi and assures me of the price back to the ship.

    A wonderful dinner at the Yacht Club is followed by the crew talent show. I expect it to be generally cringe-worthy (as they usually are) with the occasional nugget of talent. I’m wrong. The Filipino Folkloric Show is exceptional - the finest crew talent show I have ever seen in over a decade of cruise ship adventures. It proves to be a superb way to end a superb holiday, despite all the problems.

    Monday 28/11/2011

    A little after nine o’clock my colour-coded luggage label is called so it’s time to go. Handshakes and kisses all round. The drive north to the airport over an hour away is fascinating - showing the true beating heart of Mumbai. After a relaxing flight, security cretins at Heathrow confiscate my two small, unopened bottles of wine… which were served on the BA flight!

    Solo travelling on cruise ships? Absolutely!

    #2
    Thank You,

    I poured a glass of wine and settled down to a great read, excellent, as was your review. I like your humour & you paint 'wonderful pictures', really interesting.
    Lizzie sigpic

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      #3
      Simon, a really great read. I should have followed Lizzie's lead and settled down with a glass of wine. I was fascinated by the title and it tempted me read a few lines. I was so enthralled I had to read it all. What a wonderful adventure and you brought it all to life. You said you had some wonderful table companions, but I'm sure they were equally as complimentary after being fortunate enough to share a table with you. I echo your sentiments - travelling solo on cruise holidays? Most definitely!

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        #4
        Hello tp and welcome to the forum with such a brilliant first post.

        I just thought I'd bump this up to the top of the pile and say to anyone who has taken a look and thought your post was too long to read, do what Lizzie did and get a glass of wine........ or read it in instalments.

        Failing that, don't take your kindle on your next cruise, take an ipad and read this diary instead.

        Very entertaining.................thanks.

        Bob

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          #5
          Lizzie, Blondie, Bobbybouy,
          Many thanks for your kind comments. :-)

          Comment


            #6
            just brilliant!
            loved it and the humour
            thank you

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              #7
              A great read thankyou, I sailed with them when they first started and had the most wonderful cruise, one of the best !!CG
              sigpic

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                #8
                This is the most entertaining account of cruising I have ever read. It was almost disappointing that there was no pirate attack .

                Written with wry humour and tolerance it was a pleasure to hear of the highlights and pitfalls that inevitably happen on any adventure. Only a solo traveller would find the enjoyment inherent in such a cruise !

                Christiaan

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                  #9
                  Superb piece of writing! compliments! a must read, i know its pretty long but surely worth it

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                    #10
                    Probably the best review I've ever read - what a wonderful dining companion you must be, and how I wish we could have you on our table sometime!!!

                    Cheers,
                    Lynn

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                      #11
                      Superbly written, loved your humour. As said by others, the best review I have ever read, thank you.

                      Susan

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                        #12
                        If anyone missed the next instalment of tpms2000's adventures, you can read it here..... http://www.cruises.co.uk/1008-cunard...o_virgins.html

                        Bob

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                          #13
                          Loved that one, too - but then I ought to; we were on the same cruise!!!!

                          Now I really DO wish we'd had him as a dinner companion .....

                          Cheers,
                          Lynn

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                            #14
                            That really was a great read. I did laugh at your jokes and tried to remember them this afternoon whilst out walking around the harbour with my husband in Torquay. Needless to say I didn't get them quite right. Thank you for a great review. JT

                            Comment


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