Category Archives: Columbus

LAST FULL DAY AT SEA – ALMOST HOME

What a difference a day makes. We’ve left the Bay of Biscay and are now in the English Channel. It’s cold, windy and raining outside, and the the only people on the upper decks are the smokers, huddled together under the sheltered section of the deck that permits their addiction. The going isn’t quite so smooth, either, with a lumpy sea that occasionally feels like we’ve just gone over a speed bump.

After breakfast, we went to listen to Louise Bonner’s talk on the English Channel; how it was formed, how it has been crossed in the intervening centuries, and how, at one time, the channel was a cold, semi-frozen tundra that was home to sabre-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths.

In the afternoon, we went along to Ian’s last, light-hearted talk on ‘how not to photograph wildlife’ before making a start on packing (although, I have to say that it doesn’t take us long to pack, since it mostly entails stuffing all our dirty laundry into a suitcase and sitting on it until the zip closes). We ate dinner to the sound of a howling wind whipping the top deck and whistling through the doors every time someone entered the bistro from outside.

As the cruise draws to an end – and it’s flown by, to be sure – we’re looking at the cabin and the ship and thinking forward to January, when we will be returning for the first leg of the Columbus’s World Cruise, to Sydney. I’m guessing we will be allocated more or less the same cabin, or similar in the same area on this deck. We’ve really enjoyed the convenience of having a kettle in the cabin and a big window that lets in plenty of natural light (even if there is a lifeboat in the way of the view), and although we haven’t really used it, having a small fidge in the room is nothing short of luxury for us. Even the shower has been a pleasing step up in terms of size, power and consistency.

We will be arriving at Tilbury at around 8am in the morning, and expect to be off the ship soon after that. Home in North Yorkshire is about four and a half hours drive away.

Until January… in the words of Mary Poppins and Bart Simpson… my work here is done.

CHILLIN’ AT SEA AND A BLAST FROM THE PAST

We have two more sea days to go before we are due to arrive back at our starting point in Tilbury, on Thursday morning. I’ve finished all my classes, so the days are mine to use as I wish.

This morning, after breakfast, we headed upstairs for some deck-walking and wave watching. Surprisingly, the sun was out and the weather was quite warm, with most of the sun loungers occupied wth happy sunbathers.

We ended up walking the deck and watching the sea all morning, and it was glorious! Not only that; as lunchtime approached, we saw no fewer than four separate whale blows – a rare sight in these parts. Having said that, we suspect that this may have something to do with our location; as you approach the Bay of Biscay from the South, there is a subterranean ledge that produces a circulation of water and nutrients… and food for dolphins and whales… sort of the equivalent of a whale and dolphin MacDonalds.

To mark the fact that my classes have finished and that I am ‘off the clock’, we celebrated by having a lunchtime ice cream from the deck vendor… we know how to live.

It was Formal Night tonight, and showtime was none other than ‘The Batchelors’, which takes me back quite a bit. They were before my time, but I remember there always being Batchelors LPs and singles in our house when I was little.

Of the three performers, only John Stokes remains from the original line-up, but backed by four members of the Columbus orchestra, providing keyboards, drums and a brass section, the sound was an authentic, real blast from the past. There’s a special kind of nostalgic awesomeness about old guys from their own time at the top, playing songs that helped to shape that era that, for me at least, really hit a chord. They played all their greatest hits, of course, ‘I Believe’ and ‘Diane’, and went down a storm. Having recently played seven summer seasons at Blackpool and recorded a couple of new albums, it seems The Batchelors aren’t so much having a renaissance… the truth is that they, apparently, never went away…

LISBON, PORTUGAL

This morning, we arrived at our final port stop, Lisbon in Portugal.

All-aboard tome was 12:30pm, so we didn’t have a great deal of time to do anything too ambitious. To top it all, when we arrived at around 8m, it was raining hard outside which wasn’t very encouraging. Nevertheless, after a leisurely breakfast, we donned our waterproofs and headed outside for a short walk.

Soon after disembarking via a damp and slightly slippy gangway, the rain stopped, and our waterproofs came off and went into the backpack. With the absence of any wind to speak of, the air was actually quite warm and muggy.

Parked behind the Columbus was only one other ship, The ‘Celebrity Reflection’; a mountainous monstrosity that looks like a hideous floating block of flats and makes even the Columbus look small.

We walked from the cruise terminal towards Commercial Square, and along the pedestrianised Rua Aurea, to Dom Pedro IV Square, with its fountains and statue of ol’ Pedro himself. Along the way, we passed the Santa Justa elevator, which is an intriguing metal-build structure with a viewing platform on top, that we’ve seen lots of times on tour, but never had a chance to investigate at close quarters. We might have paid money to take the trip to the top if it wasn’t for the massive queue around its base to do just that. Time simply wasn’t on our side (maybe next time).

By the time we reached Dom Pedro Square, the rain was starting to return, and time was getting on, so after taking a few photographs we started to head back towards the ship.

As I’ve mentioned previously, Tracey and I have been logging our walking activities with a mobile step-counting app, and couldn’t figure out why, between the two of us, I seem to be accruing a noticeably higher step count. Having experimented with different apps, and different circumstances, we’ve come to the conclusion that part of the reason for this is down to the phones themselves, but to put the matter to rest once and for all, we also decided to run a final experiment as we walked back to the ship. We started walking at the same time, from the same point, and counted to one hundred steps ourselves, only to discover, upon reaching one hundred that Tracey finished quite a distance ahead of me. So it’s official… I’m just a short a***se.

After lunch, I held my final class, which felt slightly weird, with having two more sea days to go, but that’s just the way things have worked out; the craft room slots have been shared out amongst three tutors, each getting five sessions, which means I’m going to have the final two sea days totally free to do with as I wish… not sure what I’m going to do with them, though…

In the evening, we went to watch Steve Deveraux, who is a singer with an impressive musicals CV as long as your arm (and including TV’s ‘The Voice’) who had boarded the ship at the same time as us way back in Tilbury. He’s a big guy with a big, deep voice, yet to me it sounded like a lifetime of smoking might have taken its toll…

AT SEA AGAIN

Today, we were back at sea heading towards our final port stop before the final leg back to home.

I spent most of the morning in the cabin doing some online student work before heading upstairs to lunch.

After lunch, I held my penultimate painting class in the Crafters Studio. ‘The Rooftops of Lisbon’ Line and Wash proved to be a challenge (and next time, I’ll demonstrate it on a smaller sheet of paper), but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

In the evening, we went to watch Christopher Gee’s second show. Once again, he was on top form; a very entertaining and enjoyable impressionist.

With all the top class entertainment we’ve had on board – what with the ‘Legends of the Musicals’ n’ all – and there have been a lot of them – one would expect passengers to be thoroughly satsfied, yet we were rather amazed to hear a couple complaining about the onboard entertainment in a lift recently. I couldn’t help but wonder how they would define ‘good entertainment’. Although we tend not to go to the ‘showteam’ shows on the grounds that we’ve seen most of them before, and musicals are not really our thing, I think the standard and diversity of what’s been on offer this cruise has been exemplerary.

THE MOUNTAINS OF MADEIRA

Last night, we returned to our cabin to find rucksacks and clipboards waiting for us… it turns out we are on tour…

Needless to say, we were up early this morning, in order to get an early breakfast, in order to be on the quayside for 9am.

As it happens, we were queuing to disembark due to a slight delay in getting clearance for the ship from the immigration officials.

We’ve been to Funchal, in Madeira, many times before. However, we’ve never been beyond the city borders of Funchal itself, so todays tour, billed as ‘Scenic Madeira’ looked like it might be interesting… and it was.

It was essentially an ‘on-the-bus-off-the-bus’ tour, but after a drive past Funchal airport, which is held up on huge stilts and quite interesting to see, and after a brief photo stop and a ‘tea and coffee’ stop at one of Funchal’s two golf clubs, things started to get mightily interesting as we headed along windy, narrow wooded roads, towards the high mountains located right in the centre of the island.

We stopped at around six thousand feet (the second highest peak on Madeira), by a large military radar station and small visitor centre. And for about thirty minutes or so, we gorged on the views. In all directions, the mountains receded away from us, dramatic and quit spectacular. We were lucky with the weather; despite a stiff breeze blowing (which one would expect at that altitude anyway), the sky was clear and the sun shone. To complete the drama, a few whisps of clouds clung to a few of the dark, plunging rocky valleys and jagged peaks below us.

After our truly awesome mountaintop experience, we headed back down into the centre of Funchal for a free tasting at a Madeira wine centre, before returning to the ship at around 2pm… just in time for lunch.

It’s been a leisurely afternoon on the back deck, enjoying the sunshine and catching up on a few things on the laptop. As I write this, it is just gone 5pm, and in about an hours time, we’ll be heading back out to sea again, towards or final destination, Lisbon, where we are due to arrive on Monday.