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|Cunard Queen Victoria
Autumn Colours Cruise 2009 - Part 2
Today we made the transition from the USA to Canada, arriving at Pugsley Wharf in Saint John New Brunswick. We had not visited here before, so had booked the morning Highlights tour. In most big cities the central district is called ‘Downtown’ but here in Saint John it is ‘Uptown’. As we got off the Queen Victoria all the ladies were greeted with a single rose, and the gentlemen were given lapel badges. We knew our tour bus had a problem when it struggled to climb the hill from the port, and was belching smoke which was then sucked into the air conditioning system. We were sitting at the back of the bus and found the fumes a real problem. Having been shown some of the old buildings along Prince William Street and passing the Market Square, we plodded slowly to visit the Carleton Martello Tower. Here we were able to get a good view across to the Queen Victoria with the central district beyond. The Tower was built between 1812 and 1815 as a defence against American attacks and the main room was furnished as it would have been in those times. It gave insights into the living conditions of garrisoned British troops. For individual visitors it is possible to climb the steps to the observation platform above, but bus tours are not allowed to go up there. The steps are narrow and there are no passing places. It would be chaos with 40 people trying to go up, and would take too much time too. The information centre had a short video, but we preferred to browse the display in the museum room next door. The martello towers in the Channel Islands date from the same era and there were pictures of those in Jersey in the museum.
Many people having complained about the bus and we were very pleased when it was announced that a new bus would be waiting for us at our next stop – the Reversing Falls. We first stopped at a viewpoint, high above the Saint John River, looking down on the bridge. The park had a circle of larger-than-life carved statues, of famous people as well as a beaver, and all made using a chainsaw. We crossed the bridge and descended to the main Fallsview Park where a number of other Queen Victoria buses were already admiring the waters. Drastic tide fluctuation causes the river to reverse flow every 12.5 hours. When the tide ebbs the river cascades 16 feet into the sea, but when the tide comes in the level rises equally dramatically and the falls reverse by a similar height. The tides here are enormous, and equate to the tides in Guernsey and at some points are up to 50 ft. When we visited the tide was coming in, and the sea was falling into the river. We noticed a new bus had arrived as promised and everyone moved on board.
Our route back to the Queen Victoria included Fort Howe, although we did not have chance to get off to take photos. Our last stop was in town, at the Old Market on the edge of Kings Square. We decided to get off here, instead of going all the way back to the ship and then walking back to town. The Old Market is a mixture of traditional market produce, as well as local arts and crafts and a few food outlets.
Our information sheet described the Loyalist House, which was just behind the Old Market, in Union Street. Completed in 1817 and owned by David Merritt it is the oldest original unaltered home in Saint John, having survived the Great Fires of both 1833 and 1877. From the time it was built until 1959 it was a private residence for the Merritt family and their descendants, and then it was acquired by the New Brunswick Historical Society. We joined a guided tour. The house was sold with a great deal of its original contents, including a beautiful piano-organ made in Boston by Lemuel Gilbert around 1830 which is one of only two left working in the world. The house has two adjoining parlors, with a large curved arch which can be closed by folding doors. To our surprise, much of the style of the inside is similar to our house. Many items of furniture were made by Thomas Nisbet, one of Saint John’s finest cabinet makers. We saw some of his work in the New Brunswick Museum later. The large oil paintings are generally of unknown people by unknown artists, although of the right era, and were provided from the stocks of the New Brunswick Historical Society. The tour takes some time; typically plan for over an hour depending how many questions you have. Like our own house, this house has two staircases; one impressive staircase is wide and has shallow steps to enable the ladies to easily climb when wearing long formal gowns, and the other is much narrower and steeper for the servants. We were permitted to climb the servants stairs to the attic rooms, which presently contain all sorts of oddments. At the end of the tour we were invited to have tea and cakes, produced by the docent’s wife. We refused tea, we never drink the stuff, but gladly accepted a cake and cookie. We recommend a visit here, and would go back and look around again.
We like to visit museums and on the other side of Kings Square is the No 2 Old Engine House Museum, next door to the historic Old Saint John Court House. In Canada an engine house is a fire station. The front entrance was closed but there was a small handwritten note saying that interested visitors should go to the back door. We did so, and to our surprise found the building was open and empty. It reminded us of New Zealand where museums could often be empty, with a box for donations. In the park opposite there was a monument dedicated to the memory of those fire fighters who had answered their last call. It was erected to commemorate the bicentennial of the Saint John fire department in 1986.
We knew now we would not be going back to the Queen Victoria for lunch so we stopped in the Old Market and purchased two Lobster Rolls. From there we went to Trinity Church. The Old Trinity Church was completed in 1791 and then destroyed in the Great Fire of 1877. Only the Communion Silver was saved. The historic Royal coat of arms now mounted over the great west door was also saved from the fire. There is a magnificent east window, with immediately below a beautifully decorated and gilded carved reredos (screen). Next door is the Hayward China Museum. It only has one small room with museum pieces but is mainly a good quality china shop. Among the various modern manufacturers we found Royal Doulton, Wedgwood and Waterford there. One Lismore Waterford glass is C$99 here, which is about £60.
The town is very compact and it was only a short walk to the New Brunswick Museum. But first we visited Barbour’s General Store which contains displays of vintage goods, as well as a small tourist information office at the back. The Little Red Schoolhouse, which was a companion building, is not open. We checked on the location of the New Brunswick Museum and still walked all around the outside of it before finding the entrance was inside the shopping mall. It was not permitted to take photos except for the stuffed moose in the foyer, which matched the statue in the park outside. There are many interesting exhibits and we walked and walked until we could not manage any more. One highlight is the Wind, Wood and Sail exhibit which commemorates the local shipbuilding industry. The Marco Polo was built here which was famous for doing the round trip to Australia in just over 5 months. There is a small model of her. Also on display is a full size model of the great white whale named Delilah which was washed ashore dead. Her calf escaped and was seen again the following year, to everyone's surprise and delight. There were bones found locally from a large mammal with a trunk, resembling an elephant, and a full size skeleton hangs from the ceiling. In the next room there was a display of local birds so we were able to confirm our sighting of a blue jay in Portland. There are also displays of furniture made by local cabinet makers, and general house contents. We enjoyed our visit but there was so much to see and we really needed to spend more time and walk around more slowly.
From the museum we were close to the stern of the ship and it was only a few minutes walk to get back. Everyone was safely on board when there was an announcement. We knew from our tour guide that low tide was going to be at 16.45 today, just as we were scheduled to depart, and the Captain decided to delay his departure for 45 minutes in order to get better depth of water.
Having left Saint John later than expected last night it was no surprise to find that we were slightly late arriving in Halifax today. Pete went off to the gym just after 06.00, because we needed to have breakfast and be checked in at the Chart Room by 08.45 to go off on our excursion to visit Peggy’s Cove. Pauline declined. In fact our trip departed almost an hour later than timetabled, but that gave us the chance to have a few extra games of Backgammon while waiting. It was the Queen Victoria’s maiden visit to Halifax and this was a good reason for the local pipe band give us a special welcome at Pier 22. Next door, at Pier 21, is the last remaining immigration shed in Canada. From 1928 until 1971 more than a million immigrants, refugees, war brides and their children entered here. Nova Scotia translates as New Scotland and everywhere we went the tourist guides were wearing the kilt. Another familiar site greeted us on the shore; there was a London Routemaster double decker bus, modified by the addition of new side doors. As we watched, another bus came along, and then another. Ambassatours, known as the Company with the Kilts, have a fleet of them.
On our last visit to Halifax on board the QE2 we had visited Peggy’s Cove and this trip we did the same. It is about one hour by coach to get to Peggy’s Cove and we were pleased that we even with our late arrival we could still spend 90 minutes there before returning to the Queen Victoria. The whole trip takes just over 3 hours and there was nothing which could be done to change the timing due to our late arrival in port. The weather on this visit was not as good as in 2005, and otherwise the only significant change was that the Post Office which used to be located in the lighthouse has moved to the Sou’Wester Restaurant and Gift Shop. Our guide collected a male and a female lobster for people to handle, and he explained how to tell the difference.
Of all the places to explore in Peggy’s Cove the Sou’Wester was the only place we did not visit. Pauline's postcard shopping was done at Beales Bailiwick shop, because we knew that the owner came from Guernsey. We talked with him and he said he came from Cobo. The shop even sells the traditional navy blue Guernsey jumpers, made by Le Tricoteur and priced at C$180 for size 38inch adults, as well as a number of nice locally sourced souvenirs and clothing. The owners live in the house just behind the shop and during recent storms the shop was shifted off its foundations – a nasty fright for them in case it was completely lost. It is just opposite the garden of the deGarthe house, which contains the Fishermen's monument made by William E. deGarthe, artist and sculpture. The monument depicts Fisherman's family, Peggy of the Cove, and Fishermen at Work. It was donated to the province of Nova Scotia by Mrs Agnes deGarthe in 1984, in accordance with the wishes of her late husband.
We arrived back at Pier 22 at 13.30 and immediately walked straight out along the waterfront boardwalk back to town. We wished the tour bus was allowed to drop-off in town. In 2006 a new statue, of Samuel Cunard, had been installed on the Waterfront boardwalk. On our previous visit we had spent too much time in the Maritime Museum, and had not been able to explore the HMCS Sackville, the only surviving corvette of more than 250 built in Canada during WWII. A corvette is a small escort vessel designed to protect convoys of merchant ships as they crossed the North Atlantic. Halifax was a principal convoy staging area. HMCS Sackville was commissioned in December 1941 and was retired from the Navy in December 1982 and Then turned over to a group of naval volunteers for restoration to her wartime configuration. In 1985 the Government declared Sackville Canada’s Naval Memorial. Her details are that she is 205 feet long and has 35 feet beam, with a complement of 80 officers and men. Much of the accommodation areas have been restored, and although the engine is no longer operational it is possible to get a good idea about life on board. We had to pay a small entry fee as it was not included with the ticket for visiting the Maritime Museum. Most visitors spend their time in the Museum looking at the displays about the Titanic tragedy or about the 1917 explosion following the collision between two ships in the harbour.
The Queen Victoria was due to sail at 17.00 so we did not have very much time to explore Halifax. However it is a compact town and we managed to see many of the other important features. Our priority, because of the Cunard link, was to visit St Paul’s Church, which was built in 1750 and is the City’s oldest standing structure as well as the first Protestant Church in Canada. It is interesting for us because Samuel Cunard was christened here. The park outside, the Grand Parade, was the centre of Halifax during the 19th century.
It was then only a short walk up the hill to the Citadel. We did not have enough time to explore the fortress but could only admire the Georgian-style clock tower from George Street. Continuing along George Street we eventually dropped down passing St Mary’s Roman Catholic cathedral. The first catholic church was built on the site in 1784, then replaced. The present building was completed in 1874, being extended from the original 1820 building. It was the second catholic cathedral in Canada, and the third masonry building in Halifax. It predates the stone Citadel which was only constructed in 1829.
Working our way past the Old Burying Grounds opposite, we stopped to admire the Lieutenant Governors House before continuing downhill to the waterfront. Constructed between 1799 and 1805 it is one of the oldest official residences in Canada and it represented a personal triumph for Governor Sir John Wentworth.
With some 30 minutes before we had to be back onboard the Queen Victoria we passed the Garrison Brewery and decided to explore. Our tour guide in the morning had suggested it was a good place for refreshment, and so we sampled a small glass of their IPA and the Hopyard Pale Ale . We were within sight of home and our red funnel, so we only had to fight our way through all the local craft stalls at Pier 22 to get back on board.
We very much like Halifax, and this part of Canada, and would be very happy to visit again. One of the information leaflets we collected mentioned the Shubenacadie Canal and Waterway, which stretches from Dartmouth opposite Halifax, to Selma near Maitland on the Bay of Fundy. There are two inclined planes and nine locks, although only three of the locks have been restored. It is somewhere to explore next time.
Everyone was back on board and we soon set sail. It was still early and we sat on our balcony enjoying the coast pass by. We could very easily succumb to regularly having a stateroom with a balcony. Having been in port, the dress code for tonight was SemiFormal and we did not have serious expectations for dinner. The best menus are usually kept for the Formal evenings. We were then pleasantly surprised because tonight was the Lobster Thermidor and Beef Chateaubriand. We had both, although it meant we had to wait for our starter portion of lobster. Cruising in this region always means there are good lobsters in the restaurant, and this evening it was excellent. Pete insisted that the lobster was one of the best three he had tasted.
While Pauline gets excited to see a colourful sunset, tonight was spectacular in a different way. The moonlight gave a ghostly white glow which was reflected in the ocean.
After so many days in port it was good to have a day at sea and catch up with writing the diary and selecting our best photos. Being at sea also meant that the Todd English restaurant was open for lunch. We had enjoyed our first lunch to celebrate Pauline’s birthday and there were so many interesting options on the menu. A second visit there was well worth paying the $20 supplement. While we were in Boston Todd English himself had visited the Queen Victoria, but we were on shore and had not seen him. He has a chain of restaurants, including one in Boston. It was going to be a food day, and it started with a full breakfast in the Britannia restaurant, where Pauline had two enormous blueberry pancakes covered with maple syrup. During the morning Bernard Strumpfel Executive Chef and Eric Yoong the Chef de Cuisine in the Britannia restaurant gave a cooking demonstration. These demonstrations had been difficult to watch on the QE2 but here they took place on the stage of the Royal Court Theatre with the proceedings filmed and projected onto an enormous screen behind. We sat in Box 1 and were looking directly down as the chefs worked. For those in the normal seating they had an excellent view using the big screen, and it was all perfect for transmission on the stateroom TV system so that those who did not attend could watch later.
It is a long slow progress along the St Lawrence river to reached the city of Quebec and until now there had been few signs of the autumn colours for which the region is famous. Now as we slowly made our way towards Quebec it was clear that Autumn had definitely arrived here. All the trees were glowing red and orange in the early light, and as we passed the Ile d’Orleans at 08.00 there was enough light to get some decent photos. There is a very big waterfall, Montmorency Falls which is 272 feet high, on the road to Ste Anne de Beaupre and we could see it clearly from the Queen Victoria in the distance. It was going to be so spectacular when we got closer. Quebec is the only fortified city north of Mexico and our berth was beneath the ramparts and underneath the historic Chateau Frontenac. The ramparts surround the old city, and historic Quebec was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985. Quebec was founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 and his influence is still found everywhere. Streets carry his name and many old buildings, including the original church near the site of the Cathedral, were constructed on his orders. Like many places we visited, Quebec had its share of fires, and with buildings predominantly made of wood these were disastrous. Quebec is seriously French in culture and language even though French rule ended when it was captured by the British commander General James Wolfe in 1759. Although children now learn French and English in the schools, the teaching at University is still in French, and older people only admit to a little knowledge of English. Pauline spoke French on our last visit and expected to do the same this time.
Our only tour, this morning, was to visit the Basilica shrine of Sainte Anne de Beaupre and to take the cable car ride to the top of Montmorency Falls. To our surprise, only 40 people had booked the tour, and we had to wait until everyone had arrived before leaving. Often when there are several buses they leave as soon as they are full. Our first stop was at the Montmorency Falls, but instead of stopping at the bottom and then herding everyone onto the cable car as usual we were deposited at the top. This was a disappointment, and because of the delays there was only just enough time to pay the extra C$10 and take the return cable car ride independently. We were tempted. There were no queues at the top and the arriving cable car only had 4 people inside so there were obviously no queues waiting as the bottom either. We had to make a choice and eventually decided to walk along the boardwalk to the bridge and look down on the falls. The bridge was opened in 1993, replacing an earlier bridge built in 1855 to 1856. The people of Quebec are very proud that their Falls are actually 30 metres taller than Niagara Falls, but recognise they are much narrower. If we had more time it was possible to cross the bridge and climb down the steps to the viewing point at the bottom, but we only reached the top of the steps in the time allowed. The Falls are located at the mouth of the Montmorency River and are named after Henry II Duc of Montmorency, who served as Viceroy of New France from 1620 to 1625. The area was very pretty, with the trees starting to change colour, and if we had been independent we could easily have spent several hours walking around the Park. The Manoir, as well as the usual tourist souvenirs, also had a restaurant.
Our next stop was at Albert Gilles Copper Art Museum/Boutique. To our surprise we had exactly the same length of stop here as at the Montmorency Falls. The explanation of the copper embossed ‘repousse’ work, still carried out by his family, was interesting, and there were some beautiful examples in their museum as well as the cheap tourist gifts. We admired the set of 50 hand wrought silver panels depicting the story of the Life of Christ, done over 15 years, which were on display. His work can be found in the basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, including the large main copper doors, so it was useful to visit the workshop.
Finally we were able to spend an hour visiting the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupre. On our previous visit we had only passed by the church on our way to St Anne’s Canyon, and we knew it was a beautiful building with lots of interesting history and monuments. Sainte Anne is the mother of Mary, and she is patroness of the province of Quebec. The basilica is a place of pilgrimage and there is a basic camping ground along the riverside available for pilgrims, as well as a number of inns and motels in the area. The basilica is entered through one of the three sets of magnificent copper doors, and this opens onto the Upper Floor. The lame and disabled come to pray for miracles, and one of the columns inside the basilica is covered with discarded sticks and crutches. The focus, on the left, is the relic of Sainte Anne, a bone fragment, with the statue of Sainte Anne holding her daughter Mary nearby. Pilgrims and visitors could kneel around the base of the statue and pray. We were told this is one of several sites worldwide with relics of Sainte Anne. The inside of the basilica is extremely beautiful, with mosaics over all the services and the whole building having a golden glow.
There is also a Lower Floor, which has a low arched ceiling, bringing back memories of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris. As well as a number of paintings by Frederic Doyon and Marius Dubois, the Lower Floor contains a copy of the Pieta from Saint Peters in Rome, and the tomb of the venerable Father Alfred Pampalon (1867-1896) who devoted his life to alcoholics and those with drug addiction. One room was full of thousands of little white glass candleholders, each with its own prayer for help and healing.
Even on a Sunday Quebec town gets grid-locked in the afternoon, and because we had departed on tour at 11.00 we then arrived back in town at 15.00. From the Market of the Old Port to the Queen Victoria it would have been quicker on foot, and when we eventually got back to the ship we immediately turned around and went into the city. Although it was Sunday all the tourist shops in the quartier Petit Champlain were open, and there were lots of little pavement cafes and restaurants. We climbed up to the Chateau Frontenac, although there is a little funiculaire for those who are not fit, and admired the Queen Victoria from above. From there we retraced our steps through the Chateau Frontenac to Rue Saint-Louis and its shopping. On our previous visit to Quebec, on the QE2 in 2005, we had noticed a traditional Quebec cuisine restaurant ‘Aux Anciens Canadiens’ and had noted it would be a good place for a typical lunch. The Queen Victoria was spending two whole days in Quebec City, so we booked for an early lunch for the next day. The fixed price 3 course lunch had been C$15 in 2005; now it was C$20, but still good value because it included a glass of wine or beer.
We continued along the Rue Saint Louis until we reached the arch, the Porte Saint Louis, and the ramparts; we had crossed from one side of Old Quebec to the other. Beyond the ramparts is Parliament Hill with the Parliament Building and other administrative buildings, and the Quebec Convention Centre. We followed the city wall until we reached Artillery Park and the old Arsenal. It was too late to visit the various Museums and the weather was not nice enough to spend too much time outside. We passed the Basilica Cathedral of Notre Dame de Quebec at 1730. It was very beautiful inside, but the Mass at 1700 was still in progress and we could only sit quietly at the back. We vowed to come back and visit later. We bought some postcards on the Rue Saint Louis and returned to the Queen Victoria for the evening.
If we had thought the weather was bad on Sunday it was much worse on Monday morning with rain and very low cloud. We wanted to buy some local produce and instead of paying the prices of the souvenir shops near the Queen Victoria we walked along the waterfront to the Market of the Old Port. Pauline still remembered the wonderful maple pearls from the previous visit. These are small round maple treats, similar to truffles, but made of maple syrup butter covered in white chocolate and then covered in maple sugar. Each pearl is 13g and contains 40cals and has no cholesterol. Individual pearls cost C$1 and a box of six is C$8.95. We also bought two tins of medium maple syrup, for C$15. Hopefully the tins will travel better than a plastic jar or glass bottle. There is a choice of light or medium maple syrup and we tasted both but decided we preferred the medium darker version. Cranberries are also a local specialty and it was the time of year when fresh cranberries are for sale, as well as dried ones. Dried ones come in three versions: plain sugar, apple juice and orange juice. We tasted and then bought a large packet of the plain ones. Our final purchase was a small tin of local emu pate, with cranberries. We were glad we had brought our little rucksack for our walk back into the city.
Having been unable to visit the basilica cathedral during the Mass it was our next priority. The label of ‘basilica’ is given by the Pope only to special churches and they are not necessarily cathedrals; the church at Sainte Anne de Beaupre was also a basilica. We were lucky. The Mass on Monday was not until 1200 so there was just time to sit and admire the building, and then walk around. Although the first church was built nearby in 1633, it was destroyed by fire and the next church was built in 1647 on the site of the present cathedral. Destroyed under the Siege of Quebec in 1759 it was reconstructed and became a minor basilica in 1874. In 1922 this cathedral was destroyed by fire leaving only the walls and the foundations. Again it was rebuilt and the present cathedral was inaugurated in 1925. It is still described as the first Catholic parish and cathedral in Canada, perhaps because each time it was destroyed it was rebuilt on its original foundations according to the original plans. One of its famous features is the funeral chapel of Monsignor Franco is de Laval (1623-1708), who arrived in 1659 and was the first bishop of Quebec. The also founded the Seminary at Quebec for training priests in 1663.
Leaving the cathedral just as the crowds for Mass were arriving, we next passed the Anglican cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The building of this, the first Anglican cathedral outside of the British Isles, began in 1800. It was a newer and much plainer building, wooden pews and a gallery. Tradition has it that the wood for the closed pews came from oak harvested in the Royal Forest of Windsor. It has some fine Victorian stained glass windows, made in England.
We only had time to glimpse inside because our lunch at the Restaurant aux Anciens Canadiens was booked at 1215. The special lunch menu is only from 1200 to 1745, and for C$19.95 we were offered soup, main course and desert, accompanied by a glass of wine or a beer. It is at the historic Madison Jacquet, the oldest house in Quebec, was built between 1675 and 1676. The site was granted to Francois Jacquet in 1674 by the nuns of the Ursuline convent. The premises consist of two buildings, that on the western side being the newest, and that on the east dating back to the french regime. Several prominent figures have lived in the Maison Jacquet, including the author of the novel ‘Les Anciens Canadiens’, Phillippe-Aubert de Gaspe, who lived there from 1815 to 1824.
The restaurant is divided into a number of cosy small rooms and we were led to a table in the eastern part. As time passed more people arrived; our area had space for just ten people at four tables. Sitting with our glass of red wine we discussed what we would eat. As an alternative to soup we chose the option, at a supplement, of escargots. This seemed a good idea, and when the snails arrived in their dish each snail was sitting on top of a small mushroom. There was a lot of choice of main courses, with 13 options, ranging from fish, seafood, meatballs, veal, beef, chicken, and game specialties. Of the game options the special of the day was bison pie, then there was the Lake Saint Jean pie (a mixture of all sorts of game), the Quebec pie (less game and mostly pork), pheasant legs, and at a supplement there was venison. We both chose the Lake Saint Jean pie and were very pleased with our choice. It was a large slice of a meat and potato pie, accompanied by red cabbage and a peach fruit chutney. We had a second glass of red wine and dived in. For desert we had the special of the day, blueberry pie, and maple syrup tart. Overall, including the supplements and the extra wine and the taxes, the bill came to C$66. We recommend the restaurant and would visit there again for lunch. The full menu in the evening looks very good too, but is much more expensive. Duly refreshed we set off in search of the Post Office to send our final postcards, and for a last look at the shops in the Quartier Petit Champlain for souvenirs. There are many typical french pavement cafes, including the restaurant Le Relais near the Tourist Information Centre.
Sitting back on our balcony and waiting for the ship to depart at 1630 we wondered why the gangway was still in place. Then three tour buses arrived, some 45 minutes late, just as the heavy rain started. The ship always has to wait for its own tours to arrive and everyone was suffering again from the traffic gridlock which we had experienced on Sunday. Well wishers on the shore rushed to hide under the shelter of the bandstands. Once finally cleared to depart the Queen Victoria pushed away and rotated then headed slowly back down the Saint Lawrence river.
This was a nice day at sea, followed by a Formal evening which in our case included a cocktail party organised jointly by the Captain, the Chief Engineer and the Hotel Manager. On the QE2 these parties were originally three separate special events, by invitation only. Then the events became automatic for those passengers who had Platinum or Diamond status and now on the Queen Victoria the three parties have merged into one event. The problem is that there are few suitable places for the senior officers to host separate parties. The Wardroom and the Captains Quarters which were so good for entertaining small groups on the QE2 are different on the Queen Victoria. Entrance to the party was slow, not for the usual reason that the photographers slow down the process, but because the Captain and the senior officers all shake hands with everyone. We collected campari and tonics and joined Tony Kelly and one of his officers who were standing alone together.
After one day at sea it was scheduled we would berth at St John’s in Newfoundland this afternoon. We knew there was bad weather in the area and we had been told that another ship had decided to miss its visit to St John’s. Captain McNaught was waiting until 0800 to make his decision, and it was no surprise to us when he announced that we would not be visiting. When we had been to Canada on the QE2 in 2005 we had not berthed in Saint John’s but had instead anchored and used the tenders, so we were disappointed that we would not be visiting. With the worsening seas it was clearly impossible to think of a tender operation as an alternative to going through the narrow entrance into the harbour of St John’s.
Days at sea pass surprisingly quickly as there is so much to do and we are only going to pick out a few extra highlights. We will not mention the sudden enthusiasm by Pauline for shopping for Cunard and Queen Victoria souvenirs, or for so-called duty-free bargains in jewellery, watches and cameras. There are two special innovations in the shops on the Queen Victoria. The first is that there is now an area of the Royal Arcade which has nice V&A gifts sourced from the famous Victoria and Albert Museum in London, very appropriate, and secondly there is a new Victorian Sweet Shop on 2 Deck which is open all day even when the ship is in port. It has useful personal items as well as lots of jars of old fashioned sweets and the Harrods gifts.
On many of our previous cruises a major highlight was the Midnight Gala Buffet - it has been a perennial joke about people asking when it started, which was actually 1130. These always had magnificent ice carvings and gave the chefs a chance to really show off with the set pieces and displays of food. The Queen Victoria does not have Midnight Gala Buffets and we really missed them on our first cruise but we found that passengers views had been heeded and on this, our second cruise a year and a half later, various other feasts had been set up to allow the chefs to show off their skills.
We have already covered the Viennese Tea and the other spectacular example is the Chocolate Fantasia. This splits into two parts as the chefs first gave a demonstration of their skills preparing desserts in the Grand Lobby. The Pastry Demonstration was compered by Thomas, who we have known since our first cruise on the Cunard Countess and the chefs taking part were the Executive Pastry Chef, Satin Sigfredo and Chico Aljandros, the Pastry Chef de Partie who created what they described as Victorian Delights for the upcoming Fantasia. It was fascinating and instructive to discover how they made all the sugar decorations and used them. On this cruise we ran out of sea days to fit in the Chocolate Fantasia, but the large sugar sculptures graced the Lido restaurant for several days.
Saturday (10 September) was the final Formal evening on board and is by tradition the meal when there is both lobster and beef wellington as possible entrees. We were reminded to remember to bring our cameras because there would be the procession of chefs and the Baked Alaska dessert. It is always a good evening, and everyone enjoys the chance to thank the chefs for all their work during the cruise.
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