A Travellerspoint blog

Sea day!!!!

sunny 34 °C

Talking and dining with others on the ship is a way of learning so much. Here are a few things I have learned.

1) selfie sticks have taken over the world! These infernal extensions of the cell phone are visible everywhere. It is sometime hard to take your "once in a lifetime' photo without having these sticks as part of the composition of your shot. I was overheard making a snarky remark about these S.S. by a young lady while we were at the top of the Dubrovnik cable car. Turns out she was travelling alone and admitted that she would like to have a stick so she could include herself in her photos. I assured her I would be happy to take her photo. Our conversation continued and it turns out that she is a WestJet employee who not only works in Calgary but was involved with our SAIT Travel and Tourism interns at the airport. What a wonderfully small world.
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2) We also found out that this cruise was a replacement itinerary for what was to be a summer of sailing around the Black Sea and the Ukraine for the Queen Victoria. This explains how this itinerary was not here when we initially started our research. The ship was repositioned out of that 'hot spot' and here we are. We have met several couples who were on the originally planned cruise.

3) Cunard has a very understated elegance in everything they do. It is very much in keeping with that 'Upstairs, Downstairs' British way of doing things. It is day 5 already and we have yet to encounter our cabin steward Rogie. He/she is not visible in any way. Staff are there to go above and beyond and are always very friendly however they seem willing to let you enjoy your holiday without them interfering, unlike other cruise lines.

So Monday we visited Dubrovnik, Croatia in the vicious heat wave that is gripping Europe. On our previous visit to this beautiful city we encountered 5 other cruise ships and more tourists than the city could handle. It seems that Dubrovnik has become such a popular port of call that the city now restricts tourism to a maximum of only three ships per day..... Imagine that, restricting tourism to save the city's infrastructure. After the cable car ride, an expensive coffee with a million dollar view, a visit with our new friend from WestJet we were off to explore the city again.

This visit was a bit different as I felt I was more in King's Landing and the Game of Thrones TV series. It was very fun to walk in the areas where the filming is done. You can see why the city is a perfect backdrop for the show. Sadly, no sighting of Tyrion and any of the other cast members.
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Staying hydrated is crucial in this weather so it was necessary to try the local beer, spend our last Croatian kunas, and link in to the outside world through WiFi. Unlike last time we were here WiFi has changed how we pick a restaurant. The two questions; do you have beer? And do you have WiFi? Answer yes to both and you have customers! This has saved considerable amounts of money on the expensive and often unreliable shipboard service.

Tuesday was our only day at sea so it was time for some R and R (or so I thought when I was writing this). So some of you might wonder what happens on a sea day. The ship does its' best to ensure that you are entertained and educated, if you are so inclined. They present a full line up of activities to appeal to the wide variety of their audience. "Introduction to Fencing" - yes! "Watercolours with Georgia" - yes. " Line Dancing for Beginners" - yes!

So Marty was off to the watercolour course and I took the opportunity to start a new book. I had the entire Commodore's Club to myself as most others were around the pool baking in the early morning sun. Cunard always has guest lectures on board so we took in a talk by Martin Flynn of BBC fame and Jock Reid who was a RAF pilot who went on the become a Concorde pilot and trainer. Jock will be talking about the Concorde in a second talk later this week. He had any great things to say about our Canadian built DeHavilland aircraft.

In the afternoon we signed up for a wine tasting session that turned out to be as much fun as it was informative. You had one hour to taste six white wines and six red wines from around the world. The wine sommeliers were on hand to talk and teach. It was a bit of a challenge to race around the world but we did our best. And who did we happen to meet at the wine tasting? Peter Mansbridge, of course!!!! Well, really it was Peter's doppelgänger, John from Britain. Now Marty had seen this gentleman earlier in the day and when he showed up at the wine tasting Marty had to ask him if he was Peter Mansbridge. It turns out that this has happened to him on other cruises. The best part of it was when I took " Peter" over to some of our newest Canadian friends and introduced him as Peter. They actually thought is was him!!!! What great fun.
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We are headed it Mykonos shortly. A few rough seas had us a awake early. Thankfully coffee is available from 4 AM so we are making use of the verandah and watching the sun rise over the Greek Islands. I think it is going to be a stunning morning. The day trip could be interesting with 5 or 6 cruises ships visiting this one little island today. It seems the Greeks are not limiting THEIR tourism!

And here is the follow-up to what we thought would be our day in Mykonos. As we were having breakfast and discussing the high winds our captain came in to tell us that it was not safe to take the tenders out of the ship. Unfortunately, no Mykonos visit for us this trip. Maybe next time. Too bad I bought the Mykonos postcard on the ship BEFORE that day. I guess I have a souvenir of what was not to be.

Posted by jonaway 07:43 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

You say "ZA-dar"' I say Zader"

sunny 37 °C

Well, it is steamy here on the the verandah of cabin #5076. It is Monday morning, the start of a work week for some of you. For us the dawn brings us closer to Dubrovnik, Croatia which is our stop for today. Now, you probably know that most of Europe is enduring a heat wave this summer and we are in the middle of it. It was about 35 degrees yesterday in Zadar and the forecast is for 36 or 37 today. You could feel the humidity in the air last night as we took a walk around the Promenade Deck. However, this morning (at 5:30 AM) I head to the verandah and was met with a wall of steam. Not humidity, but steam. Glasses fogged up, iPad covered in condensation and the sun beating down. It is going to be melting hot weather again today. I will remember this heat in the middle of January.

So, a little bit about our day yesterday. The Queen Victoria made her maiden voyage to Zadar, Croatia yesterday. And what a lovely port of call. The old walled city dates to the 9th century and with most cities in the area has been ruled over by many. In 1409 Zadar was sold to Venice and the Hapsburgs of Austria (yes, the same who took over Trieste) held the city until 1918. The Italians took over in 1918 and then the Germans took control in 1943. Liberated in 1944, after 70% of the city was destroyed, Zadar became prt of Yugoslavia. Zadar endured shelling by the Serbs between 1991 and 1993. Today it is a thriving community of 90,000 on the northern Adriatic part of Croatia.
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The number one sightseeing attraction (according to Trip Advisor and us) is Morske Orgulje. Now this is a 'sea organ' which is best described as a set of cement step at the edge of the water. The sea water forces air through the 'pipes' to produce a unique, melodic chords and notes. Quite possibly one of the most unique things we have EVER seen.

Our day was spent walking the streets of Zadar, visiting some of the many churches and wandering through the Roman Forum. The coffee culture here, as everywhere is Europe, is strong so it was nice to have a great coffee complete with free and fast WiFi. Thr handsome Croatian waiter was just an added bonus! Then it was on the try the local beer. Two thumbs up for the local Ozujsko beer and the friendly Brits we ended up drinking with. While the stop was intended to be one beer it may have been extended due to the lively conversations with some fellow passengers.

One comparison for today is that the people are not the assertive sales people of some other countries. Rarely did they try and sell you something, rather them seemed happy when you left! This will be a drastic contrast to the Turks who will be doing their best in a few short days to sell us everything!!!!

Last night we had our first of two formal nights on board the ship. It was quite the spectacular site to see most everyone in tuxedos and fancy dresses. We saw a few kilts but the funniest comment came from a passenger who said, "you must not have brought any other clothes in your suitcase because that sporran weighs a ton." Indeed, it was a mighty sporran! Imagine packing that in your luggage. We took in the entertainment show and I must say that it is a step up from the "cheesy, Vegas entertainment" on Holland America. Then it was off to the Cunard 175 Ball. Cunard is celebrating 175 years as a company and they do it up in style. The ballroom dancing was just short of an episode of Dancing with the Stars. They even have a group of 'gentlemen' hosts, dressed in their finest white dinner jackets to dance with the ladies. Classy!

One last thing, in our daily newsletter we got a breakdown of the guest nationalities. About 50% (1044) of the passengers are from Britain, 212 from Australia and 147 Americans. The interesting numbers for me are 26 from Chile, 46 from Korea and 69 from Mexico. We have yet to meet any of the other 52 Canadians. Quite an International mosaic.

That is it for today, my man servant and travel buddy should be back from his walk and delivering my coffee soon. I may need some iced coffee to stay cool in Dubrovnik today, but the again, there is always Croatian beer.

Posted by jonaway 07:36 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Ciao Italy!

A day of comparisons

sunny 34 °C

Well, it has been a busy few days with little chance to write. It is now 5 AM on Sunday and we are happily on board Cunard's Queen Victoria. More on this lovely ship later.

Rather than a minute by minute, blow by blow description of our summer vacation I think this blog will rather be a series of observations and comparisons to others trips. This is our first time sailing on Cunard, we will be returning to Dubrovnik and hoping to enjoy the city minus 5 other cruise ships. We will be visiting different Greek islands in a country that is dealing with a debt crisis and I will be returning to Turkey for a long awaited second time. I hope you enjenjoy ramblings.

Comparison number one - air travel. Oh my, where to start. As we boarded our Air Canada flight last week there were lots of similarities to other recent trips. The flight was jammed packed with travellers. Had we not had other things to do we might have accepted the overbooking offer of $800.00 per person to travel via London. The airlines are now doing a much better job of managing inventory. Not an extra seat on the plane, helped out by the Westwinds Concert Band and choirs travelling to Eastern Europe for a tour. I even ran into one of my students on the flight. International air travel has changed. I am reminded of a spectacular Lufthansa flight once, bar service, outstanding meals, snacks ever time they came around with water. The flight service of today is basic. Yes, let's go with basic. It is Air Canada's basic service. No bar service to start, just the meal, chicken or pasta, would you like a drink ma'am, how about some water. Don't get me wrong, the flight was fine, just basic. Plus I have been on Air Canada so much lately I had seen all the movies. The upside was I read an entire book in the nine hours.

It is still, after all of these years of travelling, simply amazing that in 9 hours a giant metal tube can transport travellers across the far north of Canada, across the frozen lands of Greenland, above Iceland, Scotland, England and land in the middle of Europe with such ease.

We skirted Venice and took a very hot, un-air conditioned two hour train trip and arrived in a little visited city of Trieste, Italy. It seems that this was one of the most strategic centres when is was ruled by the Austrian Empire. It seems the Hapsburg rulers liked life in Trieste. In walking around yesterday we could deduce that the province of Trieste wants to be "free", something like the Catalans of Spain. Trieste is situated east of Venice, very close to the Slovenian border. I sensed that they were less Italian than most cities based purely on the lack of gelato stores. They do, however, still smoke just as much as most others in Italy. The good news is that Italian wine is abundant. We stocked up at the local Co-op and are good to go. Three bottles of wine for about $18.00. What is not to like about Italians and their wine.

I just realized that we stayed at the Victoria Hotel and we are sailing on the Queen Victoria. Coincidence? Perhaps. The hotel was outstanding a nice way to start off the trip. It would be a shame to start a holiday with a bad hotel. One might never hear the end of it!!!
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Next comparison - other cruise ships vs. Cunard's Queen Mary. Now we have been, in the past, loyal Holland America customers. This cruise had us jumping ship, so to speak to try out the competition. I guess they really aren't competition because both cruise lines are owned by the same company.
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There are lots of things the same, the Lido Deck is a great place to have the first beer. Cunard could adopt Holland America's bucket of beer sail away special which has become a tradition over the years of cruising. The cabins are very similar and the verandah (a must for us) is a great place to watch the sunrise when jet lag has you awake at 4:30 AM. We are having a bit of a heat wave so the ocean breeze is still warm already in the early morning.
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The Queen Victoria is regal and stately, just like her name implies. This is a very British cruise line in many aspects. The crew seems to be very International and are not quite as 'in your face' as HAL. We have yet to meet our room steward which is very different from other cruises where they seem to work hard to get to know you. The public rooms on the ship are beautiful, from the Queen's Room where there is nightly dancing to the theater which might have you think you were in London's West End.
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Our first dinner was delicious. We have a nice table for two tucked away in a corner, suiting us just fine. Here on Cunard gentlemen are asked to wear a dinner jacket to dinner. If you don't want to dress for dinner there is always food on the Lido Deck. The pub on board is very British, broadcasting cricket instead of the British Open golf. Go figure!

Safety is always a crucial part of the first day on a cruise ship. However, here on Cunard the emergency drill is somewhat more civilized. Holland America has you go to your assigned life boat, line up for your instructions, be checked off the list and then sent back to your cabin. On Cunard you are sent to a muster point. In our case we were welcomed to the Queen's room, sat down, welcomed by the captain, shown how to put on our life jackets and sent back to our cabins. A slightly more civilized experience than in the past!!!!

And like all other outstanding days on a holiday the sunrise is spectacular. Another start to a fabulous two days in Croatia. Today's port call is the Maiden stop in Zadar. I hope they have a nice welcome for us. Off to explore a new place. This should be fun!

Posted by jonaway 17:00 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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