Please Note – I am currently editing the travel journal I started writing in 2007 and posting as I go. I welcome feedback and encourage my readers to post comments.
Next Around the Bend – Cambodia
The Little Big Boat
It has been some time since Huckleberry B and I have sailed on a big cruise ship. In recent times we have been biased toward smaller, more exclusive, vessels housing up to, say, 300 passengers.
By contrast, Celebrity Eclipse is massive! With 2850 passengers and over 1,200 crew, this is the biggest ship on which we have ever voyaged. Walking from one end to the other requires some effort. Climbing the stairs – whilst our virtuosity triumphed – from the restaurant on Deck 3 to our Stateroom on Deck 8 leaves us more breathless than it should!
Yet, despite its dimensions, we have enjoyed some of the perks we would expect on a much smaller vessel. As suite guests, we have access to an intimate restaurant named Luminae, where we (particularly my garrulous gal) have become well known amongst the staff and some of our fellow suite occupiers. The existence of this little oasis has also allowed us the luxury of avoiding the frenetic production line of the main restaurant, let alone the lawless bedlam and untold waste of the buffet.
So where will Celebrity Eclipse take us?
First stop is Vigo in northern Spain, followed by Lisbon, the Portuguese Capital. Then it’s down to Gran Caneria, Taneriffe and Madeira, before La Coruna in northern Spain and back to Southampton.
Segway to Heaven
We tried something new in Vigo.
Rather than slog it up a steep incline – followed by over 250 steps – to the top of La Guia Hill, high above the Spanish town, Huck B organized a Segway tour. So much for the triumph of virtuosity!
Controlling the Segway took a little getting used to; lean forward to propel the machine, lean back to brake, pivot the handlebars left and right to change direction. For about – I am guessing – 97 seconds, we considered handing the Segway operator his money and telling him to forget it! Memories of our abandoned ski lessons in Cervinia in 2007 made a most unwelcome re-appearance in our memories. By the 98th second, however, we got the hang of it and soon we were zipping around with more confidence in the practice area. And then we were ready to go!
Entering the throng of passengers heading for the Old Town was a little daunting because now advanced Segway skills were required to avoid mowing down some slow moving senior citizens and causing an incident which might headline the Spanish evening news!
The first steep incline also presented a Segway challenge; lean back for some instinctive reason and suddenly you’re reversing down the hill at pace. If the first steep incline was daunting, the first steep decline was a little nerve-wracking. Leaning forward to position your Segway at the top of the hill, our vehicles reached the tipping point and suddenly gathered speed as gravity wrought its evil. Now we had to lean back in order to apply the brakes and slow our conveyance to a more comfortable pace.
While daunting at first, I was surprised how quickly instinct triumphed; the brain says slow down and, without conscious thought, you lean back. Remarkable!
Soon we were rolling along Calle Real, lined with traditional Galican houses, to Alameda Square. Next we trundled along Calle de Los Cesteros – the Street of Basketmakers – and then we were climbing La Guia Hill to Castillo del Castro.
The view from the peak was lovely and reminded us of the view over Nagasaki. We temporarily abandoned our Segways, which called for an additional advanced Segway driving skill. Because the machine self-propels, we couldn’t simply step off. Instead a Segway enthusiast is required to find a wall or a tree and slowly advance until the handlebars of the otherwise unstoppable force meet the face of the immovable object.
Suddenly strolling around the Parque del Castro seemed boring by comparison. Where is the challenge in placing one foot in front of the other? The park was, however, very pleasant. But I was counting down the minutes until I and my Segway were re-united. I was looking forward to the adventure of the long descent back to sea level….
I estimate that we may have burned north of 500 calories had we marched to the peak above Vigo. And that would have been good! But I enjoyed our Segway ride and look forward to doing it again.
A Good Tart is Hard to Find…
Huckleberry B came to Portugal for one thing: Portuguese tarts!
“This is a private tour”, Miguel the Guide said when we meet him outside the cruise terminal, “what are your objectives in Lisbon?”
“Portuguese tarts”, Huckleberry B responded instantly, “I want Portuguese tarts!”
“That is easy”, Miguel chuckled, “Anything else?”
“No, just tarts!”
After further discussion, we reached agreement with our extremely amiable host that he would take us on a tour of nearby Sintra, and the highlights of Lisbon, before launching an offensive on the tart store.
We made it clear that we had no interest in wandering aimlessly around a big old houses, so we were happy to see the Pena Palace from the outside. Yes to tarts, no to palaces!
The drive around Sintra was delightful. We stopped for a small cheese pastry, dominated by cinnamon, at a local cafe, before negotiating the narrow alleys and lanes of the mountain town.
Lunch by the sea was equally delightful; wonderfully succulent, freshly caught sea bream with a side of unnecessary boiled potatoes.
Sightseeing and lunch behind us, tart time had arrived!
The recipe for genuine Portuguese tarts was developed, Miguel informed us, by monks in Concento des Jeronimod, a Monastery standing a short distance from where the Vasgo de Garma monument now stands. When the Monastery was forced to move, the ancient tart recipe was given to a family who established Pasteis de Belem in 1837.
According to both legend and the marketing blurb on the side of Pasteis de Belem boxes, the secret recipe is recreated to produce 20,000 hand-made tarts every day, employing purely traditional methods.
When we arrived, the queue was long but the service was fast. Soon we were walking away with 24 Portuguese tarts, or a mere 0.005% of the day’s production. Huckleberry B gave most of the tarts away, to friends we had made onboard and, more importantly, some of the staff like our butler, cabin stewards and the staff in Luminae and Murano.
Truth be told, I have never been impressed with Portuguese tarts. I equate them with scrambled eggs in puff pastry…
But the tarts produced by Pasteis de Belem tarts were extraordinary!
A good tart, these days, is hard to find; custard, pastry, the scrumptious kind!
At least, now, I know where to find them!
The Butterflies of Tenerife
After a day at sea and a slow day in Gran Caneria (“The Land of the Dog”), we arrived in Tenerife, which lazes in the Atlantic Ocean to the west of the border between Morocco and Western Sahara.
Huckleberry B had a great plan for our day in Tenerife.
Being the day prior to my birthday, my beloved’s plan was to provoke an adrenalin rush and to remind us that – despite negotiating our way together through middle-age – there remain epic experiences waiting around the bend.
Her plan? Paragliding from 2,200 metres above sea level!
Oh my ever lovin’ God!
“Is it tandem…?” I politely enquired with a stony face and a quivering voice.
Upon confirmation that it was, I said “great” whilst a bunch of heavily intoxicated and highly excitable butterflies held a party in my stomach.
When we woke on the morning of the paragliding adventure, however, a quick glance out our stateroom window witnessed a wind-socket billowing parallel to the ground and straining to break free from its mast. Suddenly the butterflies in my abdomen started playing tug-o-war. On one side, the butterflies representing the wuss in me felt relieved that the paragliding adventure might be cancelled. Opposed to them were my dare-devil butterflies who could not wait to be strapped into the paraglider before embarking upon a half-hour journey, following the wind currents, back to the mundane ground.
We were having an early breakfast when an email arrived announcing that our paragliding was cancelled on account of adverse “air conditions”. The disappointment was profound! By this stage, my dare-devil butterflies were winning the tug-o-war and had even started sledging the wuss butterflies.
So what would we do with the rest of the day?
Our adventurous spirit crushed, we settled for wandering around Tenerife in search of reliable WIFI.
Oh my ever lovin’ God!
Which brings me to a tip for the unwary traveller; when a cafe owner touts coffee and free WIFI, check that the WIFI actually works as advertised before placing your coffee order! We didn’t and a disappointing day became even more dismal.
Throughout the day, I thanked Huck B for her meticulous planning and confirmed that her thinking was absolutely correct. Whilst daunting, something like paragliding would have helped arrest my otherwise unrestrained gallop towards 50…in several years’ time.
A Beautiful Birthday in Beautiful Madeira
Huckleberry B and I agree that Madeira was the highlight of our trip. What a glorious island!
The early stages of our tour with Jeff – the half South African, half Madeiran guide – was dominated by the island’s most famous export, Christiano Ronaldo.
The was a life-size cut out of him at the cruise terminal and there was a statue of him next to the bay. We saw the village where we grew up and the football field where he played his first match. We felt that Christiano was everywhere.
But the true highlight of our tour was the majestic mountains which rise sharply from the North Atlantic ocean to peaks which soar over 2,000 metres above sea-level.
Jeff was at pains to take us on the roads less travelled. One such road was a mere track through a forest, which represented a “short-cut” between two roads. Other less travelled roads were very narrow lanes which separated houses in quaint little mountain villages. On at least one occasion, Jeff rejected a simple left hand turn in favour of navigating his way through an exceedingly narrow alley which gave him no advantage in getting from A to B.
Our delightful tour culminated with some Madeira wine tasting (and the purchase of four bottles) and lunch of some local fish and another plate of unnecessary boiled potatoes, a superfluous pile of roasted maize cubes and a peripheral bowl of garden salad. We were very surprised to receive a bill of only 39 euros for the three of us. Jeff ended up taking most of the extraneous extras home with him for dinner.
We loved our time in Madeira. The island was truly beautiful and a fitting venue to celebrate my birthday.
La Coruna Shenanigans
Our last port, before one final idyllic day at sea, was the Spanish town of La Coruna.
Three factors, however, conspired to prevent us stepping ashore.
Factor number one was travel fatigue. It happens on every holiday. There are some days when we cannot summon the energy to wander around, no matter how exotic the location.
Factor number two was the weather. Steady rain and travel fatigue combined to produce an insidious lethargy.
Factor number three may be attributed to the Spanish Government. After leaving Madeira, we returned to our our stateroom to find a note stating that we had been selected for a random passport check. The Spanish Government required us to surrender our passports until after we departed La Coruna.
Did the Spanish Government really suspect that we might use the opportunity to abandon the comfort of Celebrity Eclipse, and shun our life at home, in favour of overstaying our welcome in Spain?
Well, we hope the Spanish authorities enjoyed studying our passports over a two day period. If they did, they might have counted the number of times we have resisted the temptation to start a new life in a multitude of countries around the world.
In any event, the Spanish need not worry. We are much more likely to relocate to Madeira!
Of Trivia Kings and Rugby Adversaries
On the first day of our voyage, we entered the Skyview Lounge in search of trivia quiz comrades.
After being summarily rejected and callously dismissed by a couple who claimed – falsely we believe – that they were waiting for friends, Huckleberry B approached a more inviting couple accompanied by a young man in a wheelchair. After the customary introductions and preliminary small-talk, we had soon befriended Lawrence, Karen and young Andy.
And so a formidable trivia team was formed.
As the days passed, the five of us triumphed regularly, either jointly with others or outright. Thanks to Andy’s freakish recognition of random songs from all eras, we won most of the music quizzes!
On the Sunday afternoon, however, the cohesion in our team was ripped asunder by a virulent rivalry.
It’s not Lawrence’s fault that he was born in Glasgow. We were, therefore, understanding when he joked – after another trivia triumph – that we should retire to separate staterooms to watch the Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final.
What a match! Every time I felt the Wallabies enjoyed a comfortable lead – and I could face Lawrence with the kind of gracious goodwill victors find easier to muster – the Scots came storming back.
Were the Wallabies lucky to win a (literally) last minute penalty? That seems to be the consensus. We heard from Karen that her stateroom was engulfed by animated yelling late in the game! Having suffered greatly when the Socceroos were on the other side of a dubious last gasp refereeing decision while battling bravely with Italy in the knockout stages of the 2006 Football World Cup, I tend to be more philosophical about such things these days. It’s all part of the theatre, ain’t it?
Not that we saw the end of the match! With 10 minutes to go, the feed on ESPN in our stateroom inexplicably switched to the build-up to a gridiron game. We wrongly assumed that all TVs onboard were similarly afflicted and resorted to watching Sky Sports News and waiting, breathlessly, for score updates. When we finally heard we had won, the relief was immense.
Whilst not, traditionally, a consistent watcher of Rugby Union, I’ve enjoyed this World Cup very much. I may have to watch more often. We’ll see…
Goodbye to the Eclipse
We shall miss life onboard the ship; the trivia quizzes, dinner in Luminae and time together with time to spare. Unusually, for us, we will even miss the onboard entertainment, which included a Freddie Mercury tribute and a Beatles show.
Special mention must be made of the staff in Luminae, particularly the maitre’d, Linda, and our waiter, Rosario. Linda is a Scottish lass and one of the happiest people we have ever met. Rosario is from Goa in India. A thorough professional and a part-time comedian, he kept us well fed and entertained throughout our voyage.
The feedback we gave Celebrity was that, for the first time, we would consider another cruise on Eclipse for the dominant purpose of being re-united with Rosario and Linda. High praise!
We will also miss the little things; like the light streaming into our stateroom on a sunny afternoon and the view, through our window, of an impossibly blue ocean which stretches all the way to a distant horizon.