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Peter and Pauline Curtis's 2014 Christmas Newsletter

This 2014 Christmas Newsletter is being written while we are on the Cunard Queen Victoria in the Bay of Biscay, fortunately it is not as rough as we had this time last year. We have two back to back cruises so we posted our Christmas cards on our way through Southampton and many have a reference to this newsletter. Sorry we did not get it written in time to print and include wth our cards, but it does mean that we have saved a lot of trees. What follows is a list of the highlights of the year and some web references for those who want to follow up our travels in more detail.

We started the year, or more correctly the end of 2013, with our first Christmas away from the UK. Up till now we have been constrained by family to be at one or other sets of parents but since Pauline's mother died early in 2012 we decided to go away and wanted to see the New Year in with the fireworks in Madeira, arguably the biggest display in the world. There were no Cunard ships going there in 2013 and we went on the Marco Polo - many of you will have already heard about our adventures in one of the bigger storms of the last few years in the Bay of Biscay and our eventual unexpected arrival for Christamas Day in La Coruna close to Cape Finisterre at the northern tip of Spain rather than the Canaries, and that was after 3 days at 6 knots battering through some horrendous seas. The whole story is at A Christmas Cruise from Tilbury to the Canary Islands & Madeira 2013 - A Cruise on the Marco Polo

It was then off to New Zealand where we spent much of the time in South Island. We did not get much sailing as Pauline had a fall and seriously sprained an ankle which took months before it was fully back to normal. The whole NZ story starts at Touring and Sailing in New Zealand 2014

We got back just in time for the annual Easter walking holiday with the 'college group', now more widely spread and rather more good eating and drinking than walking! We are all growing older together, and celebrating milestone birthdays and anniversaries, and it was good to go to Hereford to celebrate with Ruth and David. We had a few short trips on our narrowboat Corinna but much of the summer was close to home as we had a backlog of maintenance on the house which we had to catch up with - it had got to the point that only one out of 19 radiators was warm which led to much flushing out and taking up of floorboards and digging up of concrete by Pete before all the causes were located. The main problem turned out to be a blocked non-return valve worth a few pounds which was replaced by a gate valve he had in hand in 15 minutes, but all the rest of the work did improve the system a lot as well. The system was far from new when we moved in 33 years ago so a good clean was overdue! A side effect of the work was that the spare bedroom now has new underfelt and has been decorated, the kitchen has new carpet tiles, and the bathroom has a new carpet. The boat has new carpet tiles too, a bargain from Portsmouth while staying prior to our cruise on the paddlesteamer Waverley from Portsmouth to Lulworth cove. We were also able to watch a free outdoor live performance in Portsmouth from the Royal Opera House of Rigoletto, which we found by accident while eating in the Wetherspoon opposite. We still have Wetherspoon shares and like to check they are keeping up their standards.

Although we did not have any long trips on Corinna we did get to join up with Dugald and Lesley on their Linssen in Holland for a very pleasurable few weeks. We were initially due to join them for a trip from Hamburg to Berlin but Dugald damaged his back and the start was delayed. However we had already booked our channel crossing and had 3 pleasant days in an expensive cabin (we were upgraded) on the Queen Elizabeth then 3 more days in a hotel in Hamburg which included their annual Port Festival. We only knew we were not staying in Germany at the last minute and there were no cheap flights the day we got there and it was cheaper to stay for the extra days. The port festival was very interesting although there was a lot of heavy rain - we had a travel pass so every time the rain got too hard we took a ferry somewhere and back past all the boats! Prices for flights vary so much and we eventually had a long day trip from Southampton to Guernsey to celebrate Pat and John's 60th wedding anniversary; it would have been cheaper to commute each day than to stay in a hotel in July. We had already visited them for a week in June.

We had our 40th Wedding Anniversary in October and were joined by a few close friends before we left for a cruise to Venice, a City we had visited on earlier Anniversaries. Pete managed to wear his Wedding suit once more and Pauline wore one of the Bridesmaid's dresses. It needed a lot of work on the cross trainer at home and in the Gym on the ships to manage that again. In fact Pete has lost weight on the last 4 cruises at the expense of an hour and a half starting at 0600 in the morning most days. The Anniversary Cruise - The Wonders of the Mediterranean was from Southampton to Cadiz for Seville, Catania in Sicily, Corfu, Dubrovnik  an old favourite in Croatia, our first visit to Korcula in Croatia and on to the Highlight of Venice in Italy and back via Gibraltar to Southampton. And then there was an even more silly offer for a fortnight on the Queen Elizabeth flying to Rome and returning from Venice - the experience of flying seemed never ending compared to Southampton to Southampton although BA were very generous on luggage. The cruise itself was good as ever and we had an extra overnight in Venice as well as Barcelona where Gaudi's Segrada Familia has to be one of the current wonders of the world - it is written up as A Cruise to French Riviera and Adriatic Wonders a fly cruise for 14 days on the Queen Elizabeth from Heathrow to Rome, Pisa, Monte Carlo which we did not make through bad weather, Toulon, Barcelona, Rome, Corfu, Kotor, Dubrovnik and a whole day and overnight in Venice before flying home to Gatwick. Toulon in France and Kotor in Montenegro were both new to us. We then had a weeks holiday in Pangbourne before going back home to the Queen Victoria for Christmas! Just in case the weather was bad we went to Southampton one day early, and that meant we could have dinner with Pam and Chris who live nearby; Pam was at St Hilda's with Pauline. We were planning to spend Christmas on the Queen Victoria on a Cruise to the Canaries but an offer we could not refuse meant we added another cruise on the front and we started writing this in La Coruna (where we spent last Christmas day) on our way into the Mediterreranean.

The above makes it sound as if all we do is travel but we have found time for Pete to fit in the usual home winemaking, there are another 17 demijohns bubbling away to consume all the fruit from the garden, even so the freezers are full of fruit. We had expected the party to help the consumption but less went than we expected. Pauline's OU teaching seems to be coming to an end due to lack of students, which gives her more time to dedicate to completing the dissertation for her law degree. She hopes to do comparative research (UK and NZ) about the law for assisted dying but is awaiting the OK from her supervisor that it is a suitable topic. Pete still writes some Open Source software and other work with Linux.

The year has also been about keeping in touch with old friends and making some new ones. Looking back over the years we have met or made friends in some very unexpected places and circumstances. Over the years we have met one friend by chance in a town in Tenerife, have found he was in Hong Kong at the same time and visited him in Cyprus when we were diverted during a cruise as well as meeting him in New Zealand a couple of times - the world gets smaller all the time.

A very happy Christmas and New Year from Pete and Pauline

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