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|Queen Elizabeth 2 - 2007
Silver Jubilee World Cruise - Hong Kong to UK Part 4
The day before Namibia was at sea and it seems about time to describe a typical day at sea. As with most days we started off in the Gym after Pete had produced a couple of cups of coffee in our cafetiere mugs. Coffeee in the Pavilion, which is the only restaurant open at 0630, is from concentrate so we buy our own beans and in this case we had just opened the Zambia AAA we had bought in Durban. We book for the next day as soon as we get to the gym, half an hour on the cross trainer for Pete and the same on a treadmill for Pauline followed by a shared half hour on a rowing machine; bookings are limited to half an hour a day on each machine. Pete usually gets down earlier to get a little extra if anything is free as he likes to do 500 calories on the Cross Trainer (35 - 40 mins) plus a hundred on the rowing machine (10 mins) every day as well as a circuit of the machines and some free weights and stretches - Pauline is a little less ambitious! It is working. Pete has actually lost a small amount of weight although strength and aerobic performance is well up so he also hopes some fat must have converted to muscle - for those who want to explore our views further have a look at our web page on Fitness.
It is then time for breakfast in the Lido or the Mauretania depending on the time; in this case we made the Mauretania. We usually have a fruit plate or Pineapple and Melon followed by smoked salmon, smoked kippers, or herrings (in the Lido) with a little multigrain toast and perhaps a little ginger marmalade if in the Mauretania. At sea there are usually lectures or demonstrations in the morning - today there was a Culinary Food Show and Plate Presentation, a competition for chefs to produce the best plated food or food art sculpting. 94 of the chefs entered with food (and sometimes plates) they had purchased themselves. The standard was incredibly high and about 400 passengers came and judged the exhibits - many of the chefs were also present so it was quite a job to look round and select. The standard was exceptional and we spent a long time trying to select the best. One had six votes for the 'plates' and three for the 'display pieces' - the results were very close with only a couple of votes separating the first places. We had both picked the winning sculpture a magnificent lantern in sugar suspended from a tree with an environmental message.
By then it was time for lunch and we delivered our final bottle of Cloudy Bay 2006 Sauvignon Blanc inconspicuously to Jamie as we knew it would be the Captains Gala Dinner with a whole lobster tail and other specialties in the evening. The afternoon was partly spent writing up as well as a few minutes in the sun. We do not tend to spend long outside on the loungers but Pete sometimes spends half an hour out there reading by the pool whilst Pauline is at the watercolour painting classes. Pauline started her water colour painting on our 'liner run' to South Africa and Mauritius in 2001 and one of our favourite paintings she did on that trip is of the Namibian desert which is now on the wall at home.
The evening was formal, as one would expect, and a Black Dinner Jacket rather than a Tuxedo seemed in order as Pauline had a midnight blue dress. The Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc awaited us and the menu was excellent, as was the food - we chose the smoked salmon with Sevruga Caviar to start. For the main course we persuaded Lloyd to add some of the fresh fish from Swakopmund in Namibia to our lobster which he extracted neatly from the tail for us. The sweet choice of Grand Marnier Soufflé was obvious and we followed up with a small plate of blue cheese before the obligatory truffles and ginger. Sadly the Cloudy Bay was finished so we had a small glass of Port out of one of Cunards own quarter bottles with the cheese leaving the rest for another day. We thanked Jamie on the way out and decided it was time to write up Lloyd, our waiter, for one of the 'White Star Service' awards. These are taken very seriously and each submission is placed on the crew member's personel file and there is great kudos in winning the monthly award.
We worked off the meal with a little table tennis, one of the first times we have played in a dinner jacket and long dress (but with bare feet) before going to the Yacht Club to listen to the Caribbean band 'Opus', who are very good this year.
Walvis Bay is Namibia's biggest harbour town, with 50,000 residents, and the bay and its associated lagoon is a coastal wetland. The bay is 40 kms long and is a major fish processing and export harbour. It was once famous for its whales, and Walvis is the Dutch word for whale. The Saltworks covers 2800 hectares of the wetlands. Large numbers of birds use the wetlands as feeding and resting grounds. We knew from our previous visit that we would find thousands of flamingos feeding on the mudflats, and it is a spectacular sight. Some 80% to 90% of the southern African sub-region's flamingos have been found to winter here. We also hoped to see pelicans.
We travelled slowly from Cape Town, and arrived at 0600 as scheduled. The first tours were to depart at 0630, and so breakfast started at 0530. Pauline went to the laundry at 0600, expecting it to be quiet, before her normal session at the gym at 0730. We did not want to repeat our tour in 2002 to the Oyster Farm and Saltworks, and had decided to just walk around the town and go down to the lagoon. Instead of a full day, we were only staying until 1400, so that gave us 3 or 4 hours to explore.
We were berthed close to town, but instead of opening the dock gate close to the ship we were forced to walk out to another gate where local taxis were waiting. The dock area had a number of hazards, including a large locomotive and wagons which came alongside QE2 before changing the points and reversing back. There were railway tracks everywhere and we had to cross the railway line before eventually leaving through the main entrance, where we found the local craft market. There were lots of wooden pieces, including some nice carved chairs and giraffes and hippos of all sizes. Last time we admired the plump hippos, and wondered whether to purchase one at $10. This time we rushed past.
Leaving the port we turned towards town, along 18th Road, and then headed south west along 7th Street. The town is laid out in a grid pattern, so it was easy to follow our progress on the map. The central shopping area had wide streets, few vehicles, and people were friendly. We said "Good morning" to everyone we passed and always got a friendly "Hello" in return. We passed a shopping mall and a supermarket and then several churches, including the wooden Rhenish Mission Church, built in 1880, before reaching the Esplanade and the edge of the lagoon, on the west coast.
In this area , the local houses are very nice, usually single storey and sometimes with a thatched roof. Everything was clean, the grass was mown, and new houses were being built. We walked along the lagoon, turning at the corner. There were thousands of pink and grey flamingos, and at the corner we saw just two pelicans. On our last visit there were just two pelicans in the same place. Was it a coincidence ? We had seen lots of pelicans flying overhead earlier, but they had all landed on the eastern side. Because of the long treck within the port area, it had taken us over an hour, so we turned back. The red funnel of QE2 was not far away, but we knew it was further than it appeared. We were on the main route from the Saltworks to the port, and lorries full of salt passed us in one direction, returning empty. Back at the port, there was an enormous mound of white salt, steadily growing.
Pauline stopped at the market to buy postcards and a T-shirt, spending her last rand. In the craft market people were negotiating hard for bargains everywhere, and almost everyone seemed to have two or three giraffes under their arm when they got back on board.
We got back for lunch after a total walk of about six or seven miles and QE2 left at 1400, on time.
We then had 5 days at sea as we travelled up the African coast, passing the Equator, on route for Los Palmos on Grand Canaria in the Canary Islands. Which reminds me of a joke - why aren't there any Canaries in the Canary Islands: they are like the Virgin Islands.
There were a number of activities during this stretch which are unique to the world cruise which we must remember to write about. They included the:
We were only in Las Palmas for the afternoon and we had previously had an excursion to visit the Angostura Valley and the Bandama crater so we decided to walk to the old part of the town round the Cathedral of Santa Ana. The QE2 moored at the Cruise Terminal at the Muelle Santa Catalina and the port is at the northern end of Las Palmas, a long straggling town. The port is quite close to the Playa de Las Canteras across a narrow peninsula. The Playa de Las Canteras is probably the best of the local beaches as is protected by a coral reef which protects it from the surf and provides safe swimming. The mile and a half long beach is lined by a wide promenade with many cafes and bars - a favourite of the staff we understand, especially a Chinese Restaurant providing an unlimited buffet for €6.
We went ashore as soon as the ship had cleared immigration facilities and started off walking along to the old Vegueta district which has the Cathedral and Museums. All the maps had conflicting scales so we underestimated the distance from the port and it took nearly an hour and a half with a few stops to stroll through the lush semi-tropical grounds to take pictures of a nice looking hotel, The Hotel Catalina, for any future visit and through the San Telmo Park with its novel kiosks. We noted that it was beside the bus station for future visits and so we could get back quickly. We eventually reached and walked through the popular shopping streets to the old Vegueta district. We had been brought here last visit by coach as part of an excursion but had not had time to look around properly.
We started off at the Cathedral de Santa Ana and the associated museum. It was started in 1500 and took 4 centuries to complete which has led to it having three distinct architectural styles as well as many other variations as it progressed. One of the Bishops is the process of fast track beatification (being given the status of a Saint) - his body is remarkably well preserved and is on display in a glass paneled coffin in a side chapel. The associated museum was also interesting, in practice the only way into the Cathedral seems to be to pay the €3 each for the museum - we had to pay for a couple of others from the QE2 who had no Euro who put some back under our door the next day.
The next visit was to the Casa de Colon which includes the original Governor's House where Columbus stayed when he put into port to repair one of his ships on his way to The New World. There are enclosed courtyards and over a dozen rooms of exhibitions including details of all Columbus's journeys to The Americas which all stopped at the Canaries as a staging point for provisions and water. The archipelago is ideally sited for navigation to the west because of Trade Winds and favourable currents making it also a market for goods and a source of emigrants. It took us a while to look round as there are not only the two floors round the courtyard but also a large crypt which also seems to be the home of two huge parrots which were sliding down the banisters when we arrived. Unexpectedly it was free which is probably why so many tours visit it - we were fortunate that it was mid afternoon.
We walked round the area in particular, admiring the Andalusian style balconies on the old buildings. We walked through the Plaza Santa Ana where we saw the Bishop's House and the birthplace of Don Jose de Viera y Clavijo. The town hall, currently being restored, is at one end and the cathedral at the other. There are two bronze dogs at the Cathedral end; these 'canes' gave their name to the Canary Islands. We continued past the chapel of San Antonio Abad where Columbus heard mass before continuing to discover America.
We walked a short distance down the road to make our final visit to the Museo Canaria, another £3 each but well worth it. There are many exhibits covering the early inhabitants of the Canaries including models of there dwellings made of stone without mortar and roofs made of stone slabs and soil - a cross between a house and a cave. Perhaps the most memorable and famous exhibits are of mummies. The ancient Canarians preserved their dead by desiccation followed by wrapping of the body in a shroud made of layers of rush matting and pelts. A number of remarkably well preserved corpses are on display in a room also walled with cabinets holding thousands of sculls. There are x-ray pictures of the 'mummies' showing details of the bone structure indicating the age and often causes of death. There are also models reproducing the burial mounds and burial caves. When they are viewed the lights in the room are dimmed to increase the realism.
We were, as ever, short of time so we walked back past the San Telmo Park to the bus station where we discover we needed a number 1 bus which went from just down the road outside the pharmacy. We had time to buy a few blank CDs to replace those used when we provided some pictures to Jayne, the librarian and we also picked up a bottle of sparkling wine for stock before the bus was due. We got off the bus as it came close to the Playa Las Canteras and had a quick walk along the promenade - it was a bit late for a swim. It looked very pleasant with a long and broad stretch of fine yellow sand with a reef visible close inshore to protect it from the surf. There were plenty of pleasant looking bars and restuarants on the promenade with outside tables overlooking the beach. We had no time to indulge and we just had time for a brisk walk back to to reach the ship just before the 'all aboard' time, by then very footsore.
We have been to Madeira many times before so we saw no point in taking an organised excursion - the town is within walking distance and there are shuttle buses if you are heavily laden. There are also local buses which we have used on previous visits - they provide an interesting ride on the narrow roads and steep hillsides. We swear 'never again' but still use them. This time our plan for the morning was to walk along one of the levadas. These are concrete irrigation channels, with narrow footpaths. We had walked part of the Levada dos Piornais on a previous trip starting from the Funchal end. We had struggled uphill from the Port past the Hotel Quinto de Sol close to Reid's hotel and up the incredibly steep Ladeira da Casa Branca to the Levada dos Piornais. The levadas are fairly easy to walk, being almost flat, although there were missing or loose paving slabs to beware of. This time we had decided that we should ensure we did the full walk by starting from the other end at Câmara de Lobos and walking the three hours back to Funchal.
We left almost as soon as the ship was cleared and took a taxi to Câmara de Lobos. We knew that taxis were expensive especially from by the ship but even so we were surprise that the fare was as high as it was - 25 Euros for a half hour journey seemed a bit steep. It would have paid to have walked into town and taken a metered taxi or a local bus however we did get a much earlier start. Câmara de Lobos's main claim to fame is that it was a favourite place of Winston Churchill who used to come there to paint. It is a small port and we watched a fishing boat come in and land what seemed a very small catch for a big boat with a crew of 4 or 5. We looked in the fish market and there were half a dozen Scabard fish, some nice Tuna and a box or two of smaller fish we did not recognise - not a big catch. We looked in the local church, worth a visit and tried to buy a walking map. Many of the shops seemed to have closed down and there seemed to be a lot of unemployed men on the streets talking, sitting and playing cards. We did not find a map but had taken the precaution of getting a GPS track from the ship from the taxi and had an old guide book with a walking map - the only problem was the new motorway which cut through the area.
We climbed back up the hill past a shipyard which was building classic wooden fishing boats. We understand that they also built the replica Santa Maria which now does half day trips from the end of the port by the dock gates.
We followed the road to Vitória, looking down on the local Coral brewery, and then continued to a viewpoint where we expected to join the Levada. We found it with no problem and there was an information board with a map which we photographed. It was a pleasant walk to Quebradas along the Levada dos Piornais. The GPS told us we were about 160 m above sea level. The motorway cut through Quebradas and we could see the Levada crossed under it so we took the underpass with the local road and a local pointed us in the right direction the other side - it would have been obvious except for some construction work. Quebradas was a pleasant small town and we had an ice-cream at the local small shop and noted that there was also a large supermarket.
We continued along the levada back towards Funchal with excellent views over the plantations and out to sea. At times it was a narrow ledge less than a foot wide beside the water and it was difficult to pass walkers coming the other way in some places. Eventually we came to the end and dropped down into town passing close to Reid's Hotel.
We went into Santa Catarina Park and admired the statue of Christopher Columbus before continuing down to the main street and along to the indoor market. The walk was a little over ten kms and took just over three hours including the time looking round Câmara de Lobos.
The Indoor Market is a favourite place of ours with its bright displays of flowers and vegetables, the smell of herbs and spices and stands of local embroidery and basketwork. It is the one place which one must visit in Funchal. It covers two floors round a courtyard plus a large lower level fish market. The exotic fruit and vegetables are heaped high on the first floor whilst the ground level has the flowers and other stalls but it is the fish market we find most fascinating with everything from whole Tuna to the extremely unusual Espada fish which is only found in a very small local area and in another area near Japan.
The name translates as scabbard and one can see why with the long jaw and slim black scale covered body nearly two meters from head to tail. They seem to have areas covered in black and white veining which are sought after and are left when the rough black scales are removed prior to sale. The picture shows the huge eyes - they live at 600 feet - and the veining. They are caught by lowering lights and then reeling them up - the fish follow and die as they reach the surface. They taste very good and the ship often has them on the menu in the evening. The catches seem to have been very small as we saw at Câmara de Lobos so they did not feature this year - if we had realised we would have bought one and gone back and begged for it to be cooked!
We bought some large bunches of flowers for ourselves and for friends back home, quite how we will carry them off the ship we are not sure as it was nightmare to get them to the shuttle bus and back on board - they are curently in cut down water bottles in the wast bin and stood in the shower. Madeira is a gardeners delight and they always have excellent cut flowers - we often buy some of the Strelitzias to take home as they can last for a month but this time the bunches also include orchids and proteas. Pete took a picture of the flower seller in traditional local dress holding some of them.
We went into back into town to Blandys Wine Lodge. They have a guided tour that we took a few years ago. This time it was a scrum as there were several tours in the tasting room and it seemed to have been turned into a serious drinking session by some of the QE2 passengers and crew. We disassociated ourselves and tried several but only bought a 5 year Sercial for immediate consumption - we still have several others, mostly ten year olds, from earlier visits and we have found we can purchase many of the ones we tried in the UK. We noted that they are using a new method for their 3 year wines using the Tinta Negra grape and a "Estufagem" process involving heating and holding wine at 45 degrees using pipes through the containers. All older wines are made by the conventional process in oak and 85% of named grape (100% for reserve wines) where the wines are stored in the hot eves of the building and periodically turned. The new process gives a very different taste and we were not impressed.
We finally tried one of the very old Madeiras from the Vintage Room namely a 'birthday' 1948 Bual which was very drinkable and the oldest wine we have ever tried but costing less for the small tasting glass than a normal glass of wine on board. We also bought some of the local honey Madeira cakes - these are very different to the "English" Madeira cakes being very solid and rich.
We jogged through the streets and just caught the shuttle bus back and went up to the Funnel Bar and listened to Opus playing caribbean music for the sailaway. The last shuttle bus was at 1700 because for some reason we were leaving at 1800 instead of the usual 2300. We had a Mai Tai as nothing conventional could follow the Madeira and took the opportunity of finding out what went into a Mai Tai which we will reproduce here before we forget!
We learnt later that the Mai Tai originated in Taihiti where Victor Bergeren (Trader Vic) created the drink for his clients who greated it with the words Mai Tai which very loosely translates as 'the greatest' when Pete watched a cocktail demonstration on the Queen Victoria.
We now had two days at sea which passed quickly. There was an exhibition of the watercolours in which Pauline had a couple of paintings. The last full day at sea ends with a formal evening with both the Gala Dinner with the Baked Alaska Ceremony and the Gala Midnight Buffet making a late night. The Baked Alaska Ceremony is always good fun and we, like most passengers, take cameras. The meal was good as usual and our wine waiter had managed to obtain a bottle of Cloudy Bay for us, we understand that a passenger had reserved all of the stock early in the cruise but one one had escaped!
We always try to go to the Midnight Buffets to take pictures. They feature spectacular ice carvings and elaborate decorated displays. The Gala Midnight buffets are so sumptuous that they are normally opened 30 minutes early for photographs to be taken. As well as ice carvings there are sculptures in butter, fruits and chocolate, elegant displays of cold food, beautifully decorated cakes and hundreds of marzipan animals. The exhibits take many hours each to create and often are signed by the chefs who created them. It pays to go down very early with a camera as the work involved is tremendous. We must have hundreds already but there is always something new or different. This year the flowers and animals made from fruit have been exceptional. It is dificult to do justice to such a feast, especially after a Formal Dinner so we try to concentrate on one aspect, for example on one occasion we decided to concentrate on strawberries. We started with a bowl of fresh strawberries, then a little strawberry custard tart, a whole strawberry dipped in white chocolate, poached strawberries in brandy (really superb), strawberry crepes and finally a slice off the strawberry puff.
The passage through the Bay of Biscay was uneventful, it was like a millpond as was the channel. Disembarkation was quicker than we expected as many passengers were continuing to the States and there was little customs presence unlike last trip when we had sniffer dogs on board when we arrived - perhaps because we had been through Columbia on that trip. It all went so smoothly - despite all the hand luggage full of wine and electronics not to speak of the huge bunches of flowers from Madeira - that we had to wait a few minutes for Cliff to turn up and wisk us back to home and the reality of a 3 foot high pile of mail. We had the consolation of the knowledge that it would not be long before we are back on board with several shorter cruises already booked up.
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