Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Thursday 19th May 2016
Oh my, we're at sea and it is very rough. The sea and sky all looked grey, although the ship seems to be riding it well. I was able to go for a late breakfast although the Veranda Restaurant was not as busy as usual. I decided to miss the first lecture at 9.30 about gardening and plants, helped with the current jigsaw in the Library and went to the 11.30 a.m. lecture about The Language of Icons, given by The Rev'd Canon Ian Ainsworth-Smith.
The ship was very quiet today as I believe many people were seasick, and stayed in their cabins. I had lunch with some friends and then took to my bed to help pass the time and weather conditions. We are travelling around Ushant and of course that can be a very wild part of the coast.
It reminded me of the trip that I made with my late husband in June 1996 when we were invited to commemorative events on the islands of Molene and Ushant, held to remember the DRUMMOND CASTLE. She was a Castle Line ship that foundered off the notorious coast of Ushant, like so many before and since, on 16th June 1896 coming up from Cape Town. The weather on the 16th June 1996 was absolutely calm under a beautiful blue sky, so we all felt very fortunate. Wreaths were put into the sea from various local and national French organisations, including one from Union-Castle Line. My husband worked as Business Travel Manager for Union-Castle Travel in London and had arranged for a big anchor of flowers to be made and available for us to collect in Le Conquet. We were on a local lifeboat, with many larger ships forming a loose circle around us and the marker buoy in the ocean, as the wreaths were tossed into the sea.
Two hundred and forty-three passengers back then did not survive, but three were saved by the people of Molene, when they managed to get ashore. In time the news finally reached the UK, and caused great upset at the terrible news of the disaster. There were public collections in the UK for the island people of Molene and 'numerous tokens of gratitude' given; Queen Victoria was so grateful for their life-saving efforts that she donated a clock which was sent to the island as a gift.
Our visit was quite emotional for the islanders, as well as us, and it was memorable to meet a few relations of the survivors, who had also made the journey to the islands in June 1996. We left gifts at the local museum and with the Mayor, and were pleased to have been invited to be part of the day's events and lunch. We were amongst one hundred and fifty official personalities representing France at the ceremonies, and felt very honoured to have been invited from our country.
Back to today though, and by 6 p.m. it was time to attend a short Choir Rehearsal, ready for our evening appearance (well, all 5 minutes of it) with the Opera del Mare at their 9.30 p.m. Concert. Our MINERVA cruise is 'Glorious Gardens and the Chelsea Flower Show' so of course the songs tonight were a celebration of Flowers and Gardens. We made our short appearance on stage for a chorus in 'We'll Gather Lilacs', standing very firmly on the stage to counteract the movement of the ship in the rough seas, and felt very pleased with the applause given for our tiny part in the proceedings.
At 10.15 many of us went up to the Orpheus Lounge for a Trivia Quiz and that was a fun ending to a strange day. The clocks go back 1 hour tonight ready for our port of call in Guernsey tomorrow, when we will be back on our own British Summer Time. That will be another tender port so we do hope the weather and seas will have improved and allow to anchor there.
No ships seen today.
To be continued...
Monday, 27 June 2016
Wednesday 18th May 2016
There was a 35 mile-long very early morning sail along the River Loire to Nantes, Brittany, from the sea, and my alarm woke me early and in good time for breakfast. Although I had an inside cabin, I always enjoy seeing the View from the Bridge on the television but the sky this morning looked rather ominous. Early excursions were going to visit Gardens or a Loire Valley Chateau, but I was booked on a Nantes City Tour; we left the ship at a relatively tolerable time of 8.45 a.m. ready for the morning's excursion.
Our coach took us from our berth in the wide river and past a listed Corbusier block of flats towards the inner city and over the Loire. Our group was dropped off at the edge of the city's old shipbuilding and wharves area and we started to walk across the space towards the nearest tall building. On our left was a carousel. It immediately started pouring with rain, so I put on my full waterproof gear of hooded jacket and trousers and felt warm and dry, but what a shame I had to wear them.
Within moments however we were facing an elephant! The huge life-size mechanical animal had been designed and made by the engineers of Nantes and lived in one of the old glass-topped shipbuilding sheds. It makes regular (and slow) walks around the area, and I remember seeing newspaper pictures of it when it, and other pieces, visited Liverpool and London in the UK. We also saw the 30 feet high dragon which had come out of its hangar and was starting to walk around. What extraordinary pieces of engineering these are. (Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrTnYOWi1RI)
We had to get back on our coach then for the driver to drop us off nearer the city; coaches are too big for some of the city streets so we walked through the public gardens and admired the residences on each side. The cast-iron drinking fountains there had been provided and donated by Sir Richard Wallace of Wallace Collection, London, fame.
Then it was out into the city streets, and into the Passage Pommeraye: a three-tiered arcade which descended under wonderful ceilings and columns.
Down on a different street level we could look around before crossing the busy road.
Another nearby bank had its glass front all boarded up, because of the danger from riots and strikers in parts of France, who objected to the latest laws on working practices. Indeed our guide told us that because of shortages of fuel for example, he had enough in his car to get to and from work today, but did not know what he would do after that.
At this point we had a little free time and three of us found a tiny local chocolate/coffee shop to visit, which was a welcome relief after the still-pouring rain outside. The welcoming young lady owner soon provided delicious calorie-laden drinks and we enjoyed talking with her and other locals who called in.
Back outside we joined our guide and group again and headed off to the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, with a statue of Queen Anne of Brittany near the entrance. The moated castle (it was still raining) had the appearance of a chateau inside, which was quite a contrast, but a beautiful building.
By now the rain was torrential so we set off fast for the Cathedral of St. Pierre. It was a relief to be inside and see the amazing tomb of the last Duke of Brittany and his wife, the parents of Anne of Brittany.
Figures of various saints were also carved around the base of the monument, and a figurehead at each corner. Our guide pointed out the head of Prudence: the back of her head showed the face of an old man with a beard, proving what she had learned in life to become Prudence in her outlook.
The stained-glass windows were lovely, as were the huge ancient wooden doors leading outside again. The coach was waiting nearby to take us back to the ship, still in the rain. Lunch was welcome on our return, and so was the easing of the rain.
Soon after 4.30 p.m. we sailed away from our berth in Nantes on the River Loire, by now in warm sunshine with light clouds. The riverside views looked interesting as we sailed through the countryside, with occasional ferries waiting for us to pass their hamlets.
The Captain had told us to look out for a piece of 'artwork' on the port side as we sailed along and half an hour after departure we could see it - what looked like a half-submerged house in the river, not quite upright, and certainly a disconcerting sight to us all. Hmmm.
A couple of hours after leaving our berth in Nantes, we neared the widening mouth of the River Loire and could see various ships in the port of St. Nazaire, including something large under construction at the STX Europe shipbuilders. Although still sunny, the sea was disturbed and becoming slightly rough as we set out to sea and headed north-west.
At dinner the Captain made a broadcast to say that because of the latest sea conditions and those forecast, it had been decided we would not now be able to call at Douarnenez as it would be too rough for the tenders to take us ashore. The plan was therefore to have a day at sea tomorrow (Thursday) and get to Guernsey early and enjoy more time there. That sounded an acceptable plan.
Our after dinner speaker was Professor Gervase Phinn, and we all thoroughly enjoyed his talk 'The School Inspector Calls'. As the seas increased during the evening and overnight we began to realise exactly why our next port of call had been changed, but a Revised Daily Programme was published and we hoped we would enjoy the day whatever the sea conditions.
Ships seen: Minerva, riverboat Loire Princesse, the Loire ferries Lola and L'Ile Dumet, Suar Vigo of Lineas Suardiaz in port at St. Nazaire as was Bore Sea.
*(Since that day I have been advised by a good friend - thank you - that it will probably be the MSC Merviglia nearest the ocean and possibly a big block of Oasis 4 at the landward end of the dock - Central Park or the Boardwalk perhaps.)
To be continued...
Friday, 24 June 2016
Tuesday 17th May 2016
Someone I love is 7 today - happy birthday R. It may be a sea day but there are things to do and see, starting with breakfast in the Veranda, and then time in the Shackleton Bar to catch up with my diary. Shackleton was such a brave man and I enjoyed seeing many of the famous photographs on the walls here. There was also a picture of the legendary Mr Swan himself. I made time to go up on deck for a walk, and noticed that the two craft up there were named Edmund Hillary and James Caird - more famous names.
Just before 11 a.m. I headed for the Darwin lounge for coffee and then to listen to our RHS lecturer, who was interesting.
At 12.30 I went to the Single Travellers Party up in the forward Orpheus Lounge (named after one of the previous ships), and met several of my new friends there. I knew that the MINERVA Library was one of the best and biggest at sea, and before I left home I decided to give one of the last copies of my book to the Library when I was on board. (2,000 were printed and published by Mallett & Bell and I believe there are only a few left unsold now.) It seemed polite to give the book to Captain Broomhall first, as a gift to go to the Library, so I handed it to him at the party. He thanked me and immediately started looking at the ship pictures, before tucking it securely under his arm. We talked for a little while and then I joined my friends.
Lunch in the Swan Restaurant was a cheerful time at a large table. After that several passengers went off to the Watercolour Art workshop with Matthew Phinn in the Orpheus Lounge on Promenade Deck, whilst others went to Afternoon Bridge in the Card Room.
Today's Daily Programme told us that at 4 p.m. there would be a Vocal Workshop in the Orpheus Lounge - a Fun Passenger Choir coached by Opera del Mare. I belong to a local choral group back home in the UK so went along to see what was planned. There were many of us there and the Opera del Mare artistes were pleased with the response. I put my bag on a seat, and then noticed a ship sailing in the opposite direction outside, so had to go and take a quick photo.
Back in the Lounge I took my seat and I'm now in the first sopranos group; we were all told we are to take part in the chorus of one of the songs in the Flowers and Gardens programme by Opera del Mare on Thursday night if we would like to. Music was handed out and we practised our parts for the Ivor Novello song 'We'll Gather Lilacs'. That was an interesting 40 minutes.
After changing for dinner I went up to the Orpheus Lounge again to take part in the Early Evening Quiz. A team of two asked me to join them - we didn't win but enjoyed it. Tuesday night is often pub quiz night at home so it all felt the right sort of pastime.
Dinner and conversation was enjoyable once again. We are sailing towards the French port city of Nantes, and are due there early tomorrow morning.
Ships seen: Ciudad de Cadiz (Airbus on board), Edmund Hillary, James Caird
To be continued...
Thursday, 23 June 2016
Monday 16th May 2016
This morning we are at sea, which is very pleasant; we are due to arrive at St. Malo at noon. After an early breakfast I went along to the Darwin Lounge for the Whitsunday Service at 9 a.m., including Holy Communion. I know it is Monday, but this morning was considered an ideal time whilst we are at sea. The Rev'd Canon Ian Ainsworth-Smith held an inter-denominational service, with a collection for the Mission to Seafarers, which is such a worthy cause. I had tea on deck, took some photos and looked at the swimming pool; the water temperature was shown as 13⁰C - still too cold for me.
Then at 10.30 a.m. it was time to go and hear the 3 Lecturers tell us about their talks on board. As well as Rev'd Canon Ian Ainsworth-Smith, they are Lady Christine Skelmersdale and Professor Gervase Phinn. During this 40 minute talk I noticed Brittany Ferries' BRETAGNE pass us.
We sailed into the St. Malo bay and tied up to two buoys, as rocks abound here, and we knew it would be a tender port.
I had an early lunch in the delightful Veranda Restaurant, ready to go ashore at 12.15 on the tender to the quayside. We were soon on a waiting coach, introduced to our guide Anne, and off on a coastal drive to Mont St. Michel. I had been looking forward to this particular excursion and as we drove beside wide beaches, along the beautiful green and lush coastline, the sun shone down and we all started to anticipate our first view of the Mont.
We drove over the reclaimed land known as the polders, along narrow lanes, and finally arrived at the Coach Park. This is all part of a huge 2009-2015 development (thank you UNESCO), which includes car, coach and motor home parking areas, a Tourist Information Centre with toilet facilities and a kennel (!), a new bus shuttle along The Passeur, a new walkway bridge beside the dam over the River Couesnon, built because of bad silting, a walkway 760 metres long from the shuttle to Mont St. Michel itself. We could see some of the tidal effects in the vast bay, with white 'rims' visible in many places; we heard that tides can be as high as 14 feet or more.
We are here to visit the monument of Abbaye du Mont-Saint-Michel, off the coast of Normandy in France, and I was really happy to be here. The island has a very small population of 50 in the actual village with storerooms, shops and housing, but ahead of us was a climb of many steps up from the village to visit the buildings on the rocks, culminating in the Abbey. The monastery was started in the 8th century on the rock of the island, and fortifications and great halls added, and then the abbey on the top was built in 11th/12th century. Outside the walls are the houses for the fishermen.
The statue of Saint Michael which is usually seen on the top of the building is currently away for renovation, removed by helicopter, so there is scaffolding around the steeple. The Mont is so large that the scaffolding is hardly noticeable.
Our guide Anne was extremely knowledgeable and gave us an interesting history of the buildings as we climbed, with lots of breathing stops, and gradually the views were revealed and showed just how strategically this Abbey was located. My one particular abiding memory was of our small group of perhaps 12 of us standing in the vast Refectory which had been used every day by the monks. Anne told us that the Benedictine monks then had a vow of silence, but during meals one of the monks would sit on steps hewn into the rock just above the tables, and recite Bible passages.
Having looked round the Refectory and seen we were the only group in there, Anne then started to chant on one note several verses from the Bible and did so for several minutes, just as the monk would have done. It was the most unforgettable thing to happen and I felt very fortunate to have experienced it. I think we were all amazed and thrilled at this young lady's talent for bringing such history alive in these surroundings.
Climbing back down the various steps, paths and walkways gave us several views back to the mainland, and soon our whole group met again for the return journey back to the coach and a fast inland journey back to the ship. What a spectacular visit this had been.
We were back on board at 7.30 p.m. a little later than scheduled, but I was soon washed and changed ready for dinner in the Swan Restaurant. Again I enjoyed good food and company. The evening entertainment in the Darwin Lounge at 9.30 p.m. was Opera del Mare, a talented group of singers/musicians who sang "Songs of the Sea" for us. One of the songs was "Where Corals Lie" from Edward Elgar, others from Gilbert & Sullivan (I had been to see HMS Pinafore only the previous week), Mozart, Benjamin Britten etc. and I really enjoyed the evening.
It had been a long and memorable day, and tomorrow we have a day at sea, as we sail towards Nantes.
Ships seen: Bretagne of Brittany Ferries leaving St. Malo as we sailed in, Minerva from the tender, Grand-Bé tug
To be continued...