|Cunard Queen Mary 2
World Cruise 2010 - Part 1
This chart shows the routing at the time of printing of the brochure.
This is the story of our first long journey on the Cunard Queen Mary 2 which, in 53 days, will take us through many parts of the world, some familiar and many new and exciting, to New Zealand.
The Queen Mary 2 is the last of the true Atlantic Liners, ships designed to be capable of running a scheduled service across the Atlantic and being able to operate in the worst of weathers although, unlike the Queen Elizabeth 2, she has never operated a full Atlantic service throughout the year. We have had one Double Atlantic Crossing on the Queen Mary 2, a tandem crossing with our old favourite the Queen Elizabeth 2 now destined to be a floating hotel for the majority of her life. We have also been on the Queen Victoria a couple of times and between the Cunard ships have logged close to 500 days which gives us some benefits and it is nice to be recognised by many of the staff at every level.
The story this time has to start earlier than usual because of the unusual weather conditions. Normally we are driven or sometimes take a train the Southampton on the morning of the day of embarkation. This time we were in the middle of some of the worst snow and cold weather in half a century and the trip was too long to take any chances so we decided to go to Southampton a couple of days early and hopefully see friends in the area. We expected that finding a hotel, leave alone a bargain, would be difficult at short notice but we found a weekend package at the Grand Harbour, arguably the best of the Southampton hotels having been built as a 5* hotel but now classed as 4*, and at a very reasonable price. It was almost on the waterfront and if the weather completely closed in was close enough to ferry our many suitcases to the QM2 by hand.
We had about 8 inches of snow total in Pangbourne and there was still 6 inches of snow on the car which we cleared enough to start it a couple of days before we were due to leave. That was a precaution as Cliff was still willing to drive us down to the hotel. The conditions were bad enough for the bank to be shut most of the week, maybe the bonuses should go to the staff rather than the managers! We finally collected our foreign currency the day before we left. Conditions close to our route were far worse - Adrian who lives just 10 miles from the M3 had 18 inches of snow and he had spent one night in the car despite it having 4 wheel drive and Izzie's car, an automatic was still to be retrieved. We were watching the traffic flows on GoogleEarth with great interest! We dug out the drive enough for Cliff to park and loaded the car early on the Saturday morning and after negotiating the slippery road into the village the rest of the journey was a non event. It was bright sunlight and we kept to major roads M4, A34 (all dual carriageway) M3, past Adrian's turnoff, M27 and M271 into Southampton and after reaching the M4 everything was cleared, salted and flowing as normal - the worst hazard was the sun reflecting off the snow. The views were spectacular.
We were very impressed with the Grand Harbour which is part of the De Vere collection. The room was ready and we were given the keys nearly two hours early and all the luggage was collected and carried up for us. The room was big and warm, and to our surprise had not only the harbour view promised but also a balcony which was so sheltered that with the sun shining on it was warm enough for us to contemplate taking our coffee outside, although we did not sit with it! We walked round and contemplated the gym and the pool but decided instead to walk into town to the Aviation museum which was a highlight of an earlier visit. Southampton was the home of Supermarine of Schneider trophy and Spitfire fame as well as all the various flying boats. The museum has them all but unfortunately, like many other places, had been forced to close because of the weather - the heating had given up. We walked round parts of Southampton but it was bitter in the wind and we gave up after only a couple of hours and returned to warm up and have some coffee. We had intended to look out somewhere to eat but it was treacherous underfoot even in walking boots and we decided it would be prudent to eat a snack back at the hotel with the complementary bottle of wine which was included in the package - we selected the house red which was a very acceptable South African Pinotage which they brought with glasses to the room.
In the morning we had another walk outside which included the Mayflower park and some of the old town walls before returning to meet up with Adrian and Izzie who could just get in and out of their village in Adrian's four wheel drive Bentley Continental. They did not want to stay too long so we had another walk, mainly to the local ASDA supermarket to buy some Benecols to take with use - we had not been able to get to a supermarket from home. We also located a couple of hostelries close enough for an evening meal. The Grand Harbour has some excellent looking food but so does the Queen Mary 2 and we had already gorged on their breakfast - including Blackpudding and huge field mushrooms - which was part of the package. On Sunday the restaurant is closed for lunch and only soup, sandwiches and chips are served in the Bar.
We watched the P&O Arcadia as it left the Ocean Terminal at Dock Gate 4 on time, starting its World Cruise. We knew that QM2 was en route from New York and on time, so having her berth ready and waiting was good news; it was also good news that Arcadia passengers had all arrived on time so hopefully the QM2 passengers who were traveling to join the ship on Monday would be on time too. In the evening we walked back into town to the Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis, a Wetherspoons pub which we could not miss with a name like that. It was a good choice as it's beer and food were good and very cheap. The beer was from a local brewery in the New Forest - the Ringwood Brewery and their top brew the Old Thumper at 5.6 abv was under £2 a pint or free with the Sunday Club meal of a Sunday Roast for £6.99 and the 'small' mixed grill was too big for Pauline to finish at £7.49. The pub is a late Victorian building built as the offices for Southampton's first docks - the Eastern Docks The docks were built in early Victorian times, with Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis (later appointed Admiral of the Fleet) laying the foundation stone for the 'open' (or 'tidal') dock on 12 October 1838, in a ceremony watched by more than 20,000. The building is now a grade II listed and held the Dock Master's office. The walk back was painless as we had not realised we got free beer until after the first round. On our return we read about the Wetherspoon story which is fascinating and we will look out their pubs in the future. Maybe staying in Southampton is a good move - and we still need to visit the Aviation Museum.
Knowing that the QM2 was due to arrive at 0700 we looked out of our balcony to find she had already arrived - and this was at 0530. Having got up so early we thought we should get into the holiday spirit and went down to the Spa complex and Pete spent 45 minutes on the cross trainer and Pauline had a relaxing swim and tried their jacuzzi. We then had a relaxing Breakfast, their breakfast bar was almost to Cunard standards and Pete had no complaints about the kippers.
Although it was very close we took a taxi to Ocean Terminal at Dock Gate 4 at 11.00 as we had five suitcases each of about 23 kg plus hand luggage containing the cameras, computers and other breakables like the bottles of home-made wine for the family in Auckland (or to stress our wine waiters recognition skills). The Ocean Terminal is new and much better set up with a fast priority check-in for Diamond passengers. We immediately met up with several old friends from previous cruises and the half hour passed quickly until boarding started almost on the dot at 12.00 and we started going through hand luggage scanners and were on board shortly afterwards, and in our cabin by 1215. We boarded on Deck 3 so Pete walked up to our cabin on Deck 4 despite the hand luggage – we avoid lifts as a matter of principle, walking up 10 decks all helps keep one fit and the weight off. We went looking for our table in the restaurant, 397, as it was not on the ‘plan’. Waiters said it was a ‘mushroom table’ – a movable table. Jamie had remembered us and put us exactly where we had asked with a view down and beside where the string quartet or harpist plays on formal nights. Our five suitcases all arrived together, with no damage. We were pleased as we had breakages at the other terminal.
The main restaurant was serving lunch, but only for people in transit, so we ate on Deck 7 where there is ‘complex’ of self service restaurants of all styles. The Lotus oriental buffet was good and Pauline sampled a selection of dishes whilst the Carvery had an enormous rare piece of beef which Pete found excellent.
Tuesday was at sea. It was cold, windy, rough weather; so much that the formal evening and Captain’s cocktail party had been postponed. The windows at the front of Deck 2 were completely underwater at times. Jigsaws and board games are kept in a corridor there. The Cruise Critic Meet and Greet had moved at short notice up from Connexions on Deck 2 to the Atlantic room at the bow on Deck 11. It is a nice room but not in this weather as all the movement is amplified forward or high and that was both. We met a number of interesting people, including Richard and his wife Sandy who organised the meeting. They also organise independent tours at good prices, and we wondered whether to join them, if there was something suitable. The Commodore commented in the noon ‘broadcast’ on the big swells and confused sea which were giving quite an uncomfortable ride It was Force 9, a strong gale, and the Bay of Biscay is a bad area for rough weather. The QM2 seemed very stable – the only sign of the wind strength was that we noticed that the wind was rotating the propellers on the tenders, something we have never seen before.
On Wednesday we approached Lisbon still in bad weather. Passing the tower of Belem, the Discoveries Monument and the Jeronimos Monastery and Abbey of Santa Maria we passed under the Bridge of 25 April and turned smartly to port to our berth. Our previous visits to Lisbon in 2007, 2005 and 2001 had all been on the QE2 and the QM2 manoeuvres much better. Manuel I was a defining influence here, and the architecture is described as Manueline in style. He commissioned the building of the ornate Tower of Belem, which was built as a fortress in the middle of the river in 1515 to 1521. Land was reclaimed in the 18th century, making the river narrower and giving direct land access to the tower. The Discoveries Monument was built in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. He stands in the prow holding a caravel ship in his hand. Behind the Discoveries Monument is the Jeronimos Monastery and the Abbey of Santa Maria. Commisssioned by Manuel I in around 1501 after Vasco da Gama's return from his famous voyage, the beautiful cloisters were completed in 1544. The building was constructed in stages with the adjacent matching National Archaeological Museum built in 1850. The suspension bridge of 25 April was built in 1966 and is named to commemorate the revolution of 25 April 1574. It is on two levels; beneath the road bridge there is a railway line.We had a good view of all this from our balcony, and then after she turned we had a good view of the statue of Christo Rei, which was modelled on the statue of Christ the Redeemer at Rio de Janeiro, on top of the hill on the other side of the Tagus river. When we first saw it in the distance, Pauline said its design looked like a tuning fork.
We were secured at 1230 and set off on an early free shuttle bus into town, organised by the port authorities. It was very wet and with enough wind to make umbrellas break. We had a shopping list and after an interesting tour of the western side of Lisbon the bus dropped us outside the Tourist Information Office in the Palacio Fox, near the Rossio railway station, in the Praca dos Restauradores. This square has as its focus an obelisk, with bronze figures on the pdestal. It is usually the busiest part of the city, but the bad weather had reduced shopping and all the pavement cafes were firmly closed. Visibility was really bad, so there was no reason to catch the neo-gothic Elevador Santa Justa to admire the view. We also saw the Elevador da Gloria, a yellow funicular which went up a narrow street on the side of the Praca dos Restauradores. Lisbon is a town on seven hills.
We wanted to buy a Backgammon Board – the Queen Victoria had a large number of quality boards but we were disappointed to find the QM2 only had a couple of cheap and tatty kiddy cardboard versions. We enquired and were sent to a shopping mall in the Rua do Carmo to investigate Fnac, a large international music and stationery shop. While they had a good stock of computer games there were few traditional games except for jigsaws. They in turn suggested we try El Corte Inglese, a large department store. We had no luck. We also wanted to buy some water and a bottle of local sparkling wine to celebrate Pete’s birthday later. But first it was time to explore some of the sights. Choices here depend on the weather and your interests. We like historic buildings, museums, churches and gardens.
At the bottom of the Rua do Carmo we eventually reached the Praca do Comercio, where the shuttle bus used to go. It is an enormous open space but is presently a building site and impossible now for shuttle buses. The statue of King Jose I on his horse in the centre was just visible over the fencing. The arcades on the north side gave us shelter from the weather. We had only the one umbrella between us. We recognised the area, the Portuguese equivalent of Whitehall or Westminster, and turned towards the cathedral. The sun came out and perhaps we would have a good afternoon.
At the cathedral, described locally as the Se which is an abbreviation for Sedes Episcopalis, we watched the famous tram #28 pass by, and then realised the dark gray sky meant we would shortly have more rain. It was time to go inside the cathedral. Originally built in the 12th century it has a plain facade with two towers and a rose window. While that is solid romanesque, much of the inside is gothic and very beautiful. Entrance is free but we paid 2.50 euros each to visit the cloisters where the archaeological research work which we saw on a previous visit is continuing. Excavations have unearthed parts of a previous Roman town, including a cistern and a street with steps. In the pouring rain we were glad to walk under the tarpaulin roof to view progress. We were directed towards a complex detailed nativity scene in a glass case, which we later found was made of cork, wood and terracotta in 1766. The neighbouring chapel had a stunning 13th century wrought iron gate. It was still raining hard when we left the cathedral and water was coming down in sheets off the roofs – thank goodness for Rohan clothing. At least the shops and churches were warm and dry !
Many of the buildings were faced with typical tiles. Having seen no wine shops we suddenly found a cluster of them. We found reasonable local sparkling wine was expensive ( 8 euros upwards) and port was expensive too (20 euros for Taylor's 10 year) so it is almost cheaper to buy in England. The best bargains were Spanish, but we hadn't come to Portugal to buy Spanish wines. The door of the Russian orthodox church of Saint Nicholas was open and we looked inside. We had only managed 3 hours in Lisbon but we explored areas we had not seen on previous visits and there would have been a lot more to do and see if the weather was better. We were now very wet and decided it was time to go back to the shuttle bus stop, via the Praca da Figueira which is next to the Praca Rossio. This is another large square, dominated by the bronze statue of King Joao I mounted on his horse and surrounded by pigeons. As our final local speciality we had been recommended the custard tarts, pasteis de nata, but when we saw they were very small and burnt on top, and cost over 5 euros for six, we decided to go for the QM2 afternoon tea instead. Jumping onto a waiting shuttle bus we were back in the ship in plenty of time and were almost dry by the time we sat down, or Pete thought so until he extracted a handkerchief from his pocket which he could wring water out of. For a moment the rain was so bad the entire Christo Rei statue, including its tall tuning fork plinth, was hidden from sight opposite the ship. We had returned to QM2 at the right time. Our original departure was delayed, from 1830 to 2000, because of a passenger illness, but our next port will be Civitavecchia on Saturday so we knew the timing would not be a problem.
Thursday was the first of two days at sea. Rome is one hour ahead of London and Lisbon so we knew the clocks were going to change by one hour; it happened Wednesday night so when we woke up to go to the gym at 0700 it was actually 0800 ship time. This is a real disadvantage for the journey to NZ round the world the ‘wrong’ way. Gaining a day later is not the same as suffering 12 or 13 one hour time changes. It is much better to gain extra hours, traveling via the Panama canal. Passing the Rock of Gibraltar at 1330 the Commodore said he would try and get closer (we are normally on the right side through the straits, closer to North Africa). Permission to cross the shipping lanes must have been given because we had an excellent view. Whilst we were approaching Pete noticed that there was a complete change in the water alongside us with a murky yellow brown alongside and an abrupt change to a sparkling bright blue. We thought it must be the change between the turbid Mediterranean and the clean Atlantic but it was latter announced that it was a result of the bad weather which had meant that more sand and mud than usual from Africa had been eroded and entered the sea.
In the early afternoon in the Royal Court Theatre we attended a classical concert. British pianist David Neil Jones played the Debussy Suite Begamasque and the Beethoven Sonata in C sharp minor Op 27 No 2 (‘Moonlight’). It was nice to hear the complete Moonlight sonata, not just the famous Agadio Sostenuto. By the end of his performance it was time for the Afternoon Tea ceremony in the Queens Room. Lots of people had managed to find it now, and the only entrance doors were firmly locked until 1530, with a queue waiting outside. The Queens Room on QM2 is hidden at the back of the ship, in contrast to the QV where the Queens Room is in the centre of the ship. To our surprise it was an Afternoon Tea Dance. We made the mistake of sitting at a nice table for two on the front row, and then the little orchestra started playing, and the Gentleman Hosts started looking for the single ladies to dance with. We moved three rows back, but into a corner table. It was much quieter but it was very hard for the waiters to reach us through the tightly packed tables unless they were as slim as us! We negotiated a pot of coffee so they did not have to come and refill our cups and could not resist the scones each of which come with its own little dish of cream and jam.
Tonight is the first formal night since Southampton so is the Commodores cocktail party for the Grill guests who embarked in Southampton; we have our party tomorrow night. By tradition it is also a Black and White Ball tonight in the Queens Room. Since it was formal but without cocktail parties we ordered our first bottle of the 2008 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc to go with dinner. At $46 it is a good price, and is comparable with buying the wine in London and then bringing it on board with corkage. To match the wine we had roast turkey, which was recommended by our waiter and really excellent.
Friday morning continued windy with showers although there were glimpses of sunshine. People were allowed onto the open decks although those taking their morning walk looked windswept and shivering. At 10.00 we passed south of the Balearic Islands, and could just see Majorca in the distance, followed by Menorca. Visibility was getting better and the sun was shining. This evening was the second formal night, when people eating in the Britannia Restaurant get to meet the Commodore and his officers for cocktails. The Commodore met people on the port side of the Queens Room and the Staff Captain and the Hotel Manager met people on the starboard side. It was chaos because two confused queues were formed, one at each side, with no-one knowing which side was to meet the Commodore. Everything soon was resolved but leaves the impression that organisation is less ably managed than previously.
Saturday we arrived on time, at 0730, at Civitavecchia. It is the Port of Rome and also a pleasant resort with an emphasis on sailing. There are lots of boats, several nice marinas, and on our visit there was some sort of flotilla dinghy sailing race. We were not in a hurry to leave QM2, and that was probably our mistake. The official bus tours to Rome all departed between 0730 and 0815, while we were eating breakfast. We had decided to catch the train and be independent, and economical. For comparison, the cheapest QM2 tour was a simple bus transfer without a guide which cost $62 and at the other extreme the comprehensive 11 hour visit to Rome and the Sistine Chapel was $259 each although since this included visits inside the Colosseum, express entrance to the Vatican Museum and lunch it was a bargain for those who would only visit Rome once in their lifetime.
QM2 was berthed a distance from town and everyone caught the complementary port shuttle bus to the dock gates. There was a pedestrian footpath but the bus was quick and efficient and there were no queues. The bus driver told us how to reach the train station, which was some 250 metres along the coastal promenade from the dropoff point. The Cunard map of Civitavecchia did not include the promenade, or the train station, we wonder why, perhaps it is too easy an alternative to a tour? There are machines to purchase train tickets, as well as a traditional ticket office and everyone was very helpful and spoke English. A single ticket is 4.50 euros and a day return with unlimited metro and bus travel is only 9 euros. The ticket must be stamped with the date and time at a little machine before getting on the train. Unfortunately we just missed the 0857 train so had to wait around for the 0941 to Roma Termini. Having checked the timetable on the wall for the times to return, it seemed to be a half-hourly service. When we got to Roma we found that on Saturday the trains only run every hour - at XX.39. It is important to check these details before setting off to explore! The journey from Civitavecchia to Roma Termini took 1 hour 20 minutes. The train we caught was a regular train, marked REG, and was a double decker. There should be an excellent view from upstairs, except the windows are all dirty, and the trains and windows are covered in graffiti.
The train route goes along the coast, in parallel with the main road, until both turned inland towards Roma. The road was very quiet and the QM2 tour buses would have a quick and easy journey. Saturday is a good day to drive. After an hour, the first of the Roman stations was Roma St Pietro - we had a good view of St Peter's Basilica from our upper deck as we waited in the platform and itlooked as if it was an easy walk to the Vatican and we could see a sign for pedestrians. We were tempted to disembark but decided to visit the historic Roman areas today and then visit St Peter's on a future trip. It is impossible to do too much on a day trip. After a very long walk (close to 10 mins) from Platform 28 to the main station and the M (Metro) station, we caught the underground Linea B to Colosseo which was two stops.
Emerging into daylight we had a choice - the Colosseum to the left or the Forum and Palatine Hill to the right. These are the most famous of the ruins of the Roman Empire. The ancient city is on the east bank of the River Tiber, which we had earlier crossed by train. We chose to look at the Colosseum first and joined a long queue for tickets to go inside. The price was 12 euros each and after a few moments to judge the speed of the line we decided to admire the building from the outside instead of going inside. The building was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72. It is a tiered ellipse with seats around a central arena, and one part showing the original four storeys remains but much of the stone was taken away for building in the 15th and 16th century. Enough remains to show the 80 arched entrances which allowed easy access to over 50,000 spectators who came to watch the gladitorial combats and wild animal fights. Excavations have exposed the network of underground rooms where animals were kept. To our surprise the inner walls were made of brick; we had not realised so much of ancient Rome was built of bricks. There are many triumphal arches in Roma. The Arch of Constantine is under the shadow of the Colosseum and was dedicated in AD 315 to celebrate Constantine's victory over his co-emporer.
Opposite is the Forum and Palatine Hill, the centre of the Roman administration. Several of the original entry gates were locked, and having asked a young man dressed in a toga and trainers we eventually we found a ticket office along the Via dei Fori Imperiali. It cost us 12 euros each to go in, although EU Nationals over 65 can enter for free (take identification). Our ticket was marked Palatino+Foro+Colosseo+Mosto and we understand from our translation of the small print that it was valid for all four sites with last site to be entered by 1530.
The Forum was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life in ancient Rome. Access was to an enormous area but almost half was fenced off, either because of restoration work or simply to limit access. Our first exploration was to the northwest corner to the Curia, the seat of the Senate, which later had a church built inside, now demolished. Originally built by Julius Caesar, the Curia was restored by Domitian and then by Diocletian in the 3rd century. The building was small considering its purpose, in comparison with our Houses of Parliament which we toured recently. From there we could see the top of the enormous white Victor Emmanuel Monument and its black horses, covered in scaffolding and tarpaulins. This monument to Italy's first king was completed in 1911. There were another entry gate and lots of people taking photos of us, beyond the fences. Here was the next major triumphal arch, built in AD 203 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the accession of Septimus Severus.
We turned back along the Via Sacra towards the Arch of Titus and the Palatine Hill, taking as many of the side detours as we could. The three isolated slender columns which are all that remains of the Temple of Castor and Pollux are very beautiful. Like most buildings in the Forum it was rebuilt many times, and these columns date after a fire in AD 6. We saw the Athaeneum and the Temple of Vesta with the House of the Vestal Virgins where the vestal virgins spent their lives keeping the lamp burning. One of the oddest sights was of the church of San Lorenzo in Miranda rising behind the six columns which remain of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina. The domed Temple of Romulus survives as part of the church of Santi Cosma and Damiano, and the heavy bronze doors are said to be original.
The three barrel-vaulted aisles of the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius are the remains of what was the largest building in the Forum. The church of Santa Francesca Romana with its distinctive bell tower takes its name from a saint who cared for the poor. We finally reached the Arch of Titus, another triumphal arch erected in AD 81 by the Emporer Domitian, before climbing up the Palatine Hill.
According to legend, Romulus and Remus were brought up by a she-wolf at the Palatine. At the highest point of the Vigna Barberini (the old vineyard) there was a viewpoint down onto the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. The whole area was being stabilised, as a result parts of a revolving pavement had been found with some of the old 'lubricant' still present.
Augustus was born on the hill and continued to live there even when he became emperor. To gain additional insights we spent time looking at the statues and ceramics displayed in the Palatine Museum, passing the Stadium on the way. Domitian built a huge palace, which includes the Domus Augustana where the Roman emperors lived, and the Domus Flavia. The House of Livia where Augustus lived with his wife Livia is well preserved. Much of the site was closed off with fencing but we walked towards the Romulean Huts and the House of Livia, then through the Farnese Gardens to another viewpoint. There is so much to see and in the two hours we spent we hardly covered the ground and we certainly didn't cover the history and the context which will have to wait until we get home, one needs to allow more time than one might expect to see it all. Purchasing heavy guide books is a bad idea when flying back home with only a limited luggage allowance.
We exited by the Colosseum and took the M Linea B back to Roma Termini station. The train to Civitavecchia arrived at 14.20 and departed again at 14.39. (The next train would have been at 15.39 and was the very last train on a Saturday which connected with our Port shuttle bus to get us back to the QM2.) We got to Civitavecchia at 15.57 and found there was a long line of stalls on the promenade, selling a mixture of secondhand stuff and handicrafts, and the shops were open too. We had plenty of time to browse before going back to the QM2. We also walked up into town to find a post box - they are red and mounted on walls. On our next visit to Civitavecchia we will leave the ship as soon as she is cleared by customs and immigration and hopefully get an earlier train into Roma and spend more time exploring.
The clocks went forward again by an hour on Saturday night and we had been told that the QM2 would be passing the volcanic island of Stromboli at about 07.00 on Sunday morning. It was supposed to pass on the port side, and we had a cabin with a balcony on the port side so we hoped to get a good view. In the event it was very dark at 06.30 (which was really only 05.30 compared with Saturday!) and our sighting of lights and a hilly shape must have been on the shore or posibly a ship. At 07.15 there was a flashing warning light in the ocean in the distance and behind that a dark orange glow. It was only after taking some photos that the smoke on top of the island was visible. As the day dawned, and the shape of the island became clearer, the houses along the coast became clearer. Pauline rushed along to the gym and hauled Pete off the cross trainer to see it and take some video. The QM2 came very close and having passed the corner then turned slightly to get a better view of the other side. The next interesting manoeuvre was going through the Straits of Messina, between the southern tip of Italy and Sicily. We had done this before, but it is a very narrow gap and there were ferries and little fishing boats sharing the water with us. The two Pylons, both higher than the Empire State Building, which used to carry power cables across the straight are still preserved and form good navigation markers. We were very lucky with the weather and as we passed Sicily there was an excellent view of the famous Mount Etna, all covered with snow.
After the traditional Sunday Inter Denominational Church Service, and the non-traditional Sunday duck curry lunch, the afternoon was spent listening to the Sunrise String Quartet in the Royal Court Theatre, followed by a lecture about Safaga, the Red Sea and the Valley of the Kings. We chatted to the entertainment staff and mentioned our interest in Backgammon. Paul said he thought he had seen one and would have a search; a nice briefcase set was found that had been taken out of service because of a single missing piece and made available for us to use for the rest of our cruise - a 50p coin will serve us well! Tonight was our second formal cocktail party, hosted by the Commodore and the Cunard World Club representatives - Wendi and Yoyo. Following a mixture of champagne and chardonnay we were ready for the special menu which had lobster and prawns, and beef wellington. We have always managed to have a lobster starter followed by beef wellington.
Monday morning dawned, and we drew our curtains and saw we were passing close to yet another island. This was the south coast of Crete. After breakfast there was a Passenger and Crew Emergency Drill, in preparation for going through the Gulf of Aden where there is a history of piracy. To date, only smaller ships and those who were not prepared to defend themselves had been in trouble. On our previous cruise in the region, in 2001, there had been no special passenger drill, but it makes practical sense for everyone to know what has to be done in the event of attack. We spent some time sitting on the floor in the corridor outside our cabin, playing backgammon.
The morning continued with a cooking demonstration by demo chef Celis JR Virgello. He is the chef who carries out the cooking in the Chef's Galley, one of the restaurants in the King's Court. Today he prepared Little Crab Cakes, which are offerred as a starter in the Todd English restaurant, followed by Roasted Lamb Rack with sundried tomato and raspberry crust and salardaise potatoes. The latter is on the a la carte menu in the La Piazza restaurant in the King's Court. We went directly from the demonstration to the Todd English restaurant, having their Maine crab cakes as starter. The menu in the Todd English restaurant was the same on the QM2 as it had been on the QV in October. For main courses we liked the Paella and the Oxtail pasta, although the paella is so large it is impossible to find space for the famous white chocolate fallen cake desert. Normally lunch costs $20 supplement, but our Cunard diamond club membership meant we could eat at no extracharge.
In the afternoon there was a talk by Captain Richard Farrinton RN OBE on the International approach to Piracy. It is an interesting situation as very few countries have ratified the UN resolutions and have no legal framework in place - of the 5 who have a legal position two are landlocked! It is also very difficult to have any armed response on a merchant ship or it becomes a warship at every port it approaches. Even NATO has no mandate and has to return any ship to National control if action is required. Almost every advantage is with the pirates it would seem. There is however an EU taskforce with a legal mandate which is part of a wider International response with a legal foothold in Kenya where pirates can sometimes be brought to justice. This is run by Captain Farrinton. The taskforce has drawn up guidlines for ships which have been very successful with 16,000 ship movements following the guidelines with only one successful attack, these are freely available on the internet. From our point of view there has never been a successful attack on a ship witha speed of over 15 knots or a freeboard of over 8 metres - we are told we have huge safety margin as long as we can keep moving. We also saw a chart showing the disposition of the many protective ships from every Nation one might expect and some one not expect including Yemen, Sweden India, Parkistan UK, China, Japan and Russia - we noted that it was a little out of date for security reasons. The piracy problem had become so big that trade through the Suez canal is estimated to be down by 25 - 30%, hopefully the Taskforce actions will reverse this.
The next part starts with the Suez Canal.