Sunday, 15 November 2009

A Mediterranean Odyssey, part 1

Mmm, yes, again, apologies for the delay, stuff keeps happening and getting in the way of writing about it! So, where was I? Oh yes the med......

We set off from Southampton once again and had one day at sea cleaning tenders, followed by cocktails and a show. Over the three months I have attended innumerable cocktail parties on board, the thrill of which I have to admit, palled somewhat by the end of my time, but it was nice sometimes to put on a bit of make-up and heels and remind myself that I was a girl. We were allowed to sneak in at the back of the shows when they were about to start, on this occasion there weren't any seats free so we stood to watch Apassionanta, and I tell you, those dancers can go some!

I was rather excited the next morning at stations, as we were coming into Lisbon, one of the places I sailed into 10 years previously when sailing in the Tall Ships Race on Astrid. This time we made our way up the river at dawn and I was treated to a beautiful sunrise with the bridge's silhouette coming closer and closer. Passing beneath it we heard the most bizarre roaring noise, caused by the traffic above. The bridge isn't tarmacked, it's just metal grilling, so you can actually see the traffic as it passes above you, which I found slightly disconcerting. I didn't get ashore in Lisbon, my day was spent cleaning out the tenders ready for use in Gibraltar the next day instead.

Gibraltar was slightly more exciting, I had yet another lovely sunrise, this time with the Rock silhouetted in front of it and I then spent most of the day on the pontoons, telling passengers to mind their step and please could they not try and barge the people in front of them on. It's like they think the boat's on a timer and if they don't get on as fast as possible it'll go without them. There's also the people, mostly men, who, when offered a helping hand when bridging the gap between a stable platform and a bobbing boat, take it as a personal affront and huffily snatch their hand away. It's always them who nearly go flying as the boat lurches too. Small victories.

Anyway the lovely part of the day was getting to go ashore and visit my friend N for lunch, she'd been away from the homeland for a while so we spent a fabulous 3 hours nattering about life and it's myriad of complications. And, I got to wear the dress. I bought the dress in Swansea when I was doing my first trip on the THV Patricia. I'd wandered into a shop called Blue Banana selling the most divine retro and alternative clothing, the kind of stuff I'd love to buy and wear on a regular basis if I could a) afford it and b) wasn't so lazy and actually put in the effort to do hair and make up and such things that are needed to make it look good, most of the time I live in jeans and only wear make up for parties. I oohed and aahed over the dresses for a while and was then pounced upon by one of the shop assistants who demanded I try the object of my affections on. I did, and while it was nice, I wasn't convinced, mainly due to my socks and bad hair. She then produced the most glorious pair of black patent leather peep toe wedge heels with a red trim. Needless to say I bought the lot.

I digress, sorry, I am a girl after all.

I didn't wear the shoes that day but the dress needed to be shown to N as she is my Dita Von Teasesque icon. I did however, wear the dress for the next two days ashore, (I only had the one smart thing to wear) which felt delightfully subversive as I was escorting tours and therefore representing the ship. Razor blades and 1940's pin-ups never struck me as a Cunard look, but they didn't seem to mind when I rocked up in it, after all, I was wearing my badge.

My first big day out was Rome, I collected my tour group from the theatre and led them to the bus with my little placard. The worst part was having to stand at the front and say in my best posh voice (which I do very well, I would point out) "Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen, I am your escort for the day". I then tried to point out that I was not the tour guide and knew nothing about the places we were going to see as I had never been there either. I was just there in case someone lost something or fell over. This didn't stop people from asking me everything from how long it was going to take us to get there, to which things we were going to see. Some people just don't listen, but hey, I was seeing Rome for free!!

After an hour and a bit on the bus from Civitavecchia, during which I gazed out of the window wistfully at olive groves and umbrella pines, we arrived in the city, making our way through narrow streets on foot to the Trevi Fountain. As you round the corner and see it you realise that the term fountain doesn't really accurately describe it, not at all in fact, it takes up the entire side of a square, and most of the middle of it too, it is the side of a building, not some small architectural afterthought added on later. From there we were taken to Venice Square, past the huge white building known unaffectionally by the locals as "the wedding cake" and on to the Forum. I can't possibly do justice to any of these places with description, and truth be told, I am writing this many months later, but I have photos, many, many photos, which, will one day make it onto my flickr account when I have had time to tweak them. I wouldn't hold your breath though as I am still behind on photo editing by over a year!

We moved on to the Colosseum before lunch, it is a splendid ruin, though horribly over-crowded by tourists, which I hate, especially when I am aware that I am one of them. I managed to get most of my photos without people in them and so left happy. We were all hot and flagging by then, and I was discovering which of my wards I needed to keep an extra eye on so we didn't lose them as they stopped to photograph everything on route. The term "herding cats" is appropriate here. Lunch was in a hotel, and as we arrived I felt something on my dress go ping. To my horror a button had become unstitched and one shoulder strap was hanging lose. I managed with the help of our tour guide to beg a safety pin from the receptionist and get it temporarily fixed and sat down with some of my tour to eat. It went again during lunch but one of the ladies helped me out, for which I am eternally grateful.

Suitably refreshed we went on to the Vatican. Again, words can do no justice (sorry mum!) the painted ceilings, the architecture, the sculpture, mosaic floors... oh and the small matter of the Sistine Chapel. Which one is absolutely not supposed to take photos of inside. None of us did of course. OK so we nearly got the tour guide in trouble and get kicked out but everyone loves a chancer don't they! After briefly visiting St Peters Basillica there was time to get an ice cream which sustained me on the walk back to the bus. Our tour was one of the last back and as I was excused from mooring stations I took the chance to go up to deck 13 to see us sail out. Very soon after that I went and crashed for an hour or so, Rome in a day is rather exhausting!

There's no rest for the wicked unfortunately and after dinner we went up to the bridge to start steering training. I got up there and very nearly asked which muppet was taking photographs, I soon realised that it wasn't a camera flash I was seeing, but lightning. We had an incredible light show that night and debated what would happen if the ship got hit, thankfully we didn't have to find out!

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