Haynes World - ships, ferries, a laugh on the ocean wave, and other interesting things...

04 October 2010

Bretagne to St. Malo 23rd/26th August 2010

Bretagne to St. Malo, France
23rd/26th August 2010

Hooray, I was going to sail to St. Malo in France and spend a couple of days exploring. The English coastal train delivered us to Portsmouth & Southsea station, from where we walked to the International Ferry Terminal

and checked in for the 8.30 p.m. overnight sailing to St. Malo on the good ship BRETAGNE of Brittany Ferries.

She was built in 1989, and is 24,534 gross tons, with a service speed of 21 knots, to carry 2,056 passengers and 580 cars.

As foot passengers we were not allowed to walk from the current terminal building (the new one is due for completion in summer 2011) to the ship, so large coaches took us on the 2 minute journey to the quayside, where we were allowed to walk the last few yards to board BRETAGNE. It was not possible to take a full view photograph of the ship – what a shame – but as PRIDE OF BILBAO was berthed alongside us, I could photograph her instead. She has such a punishing schedule, sailing to and from Bilbao in northern Spain, and the rust under the Bridge roof overhang and Bridge wings was very noticeable. Her life as a P&O ferry ends in a few weeks, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for her.

The cabins were spacious and comfortable, so it was easy to leave bags and get on deck to watch us sail from Portsmouth Harbour.

Dinner was taken in Les Abers (the á la carte Restaurant), which was a great treat for the palate and senses, although we could have chosen to eat in La Baule (the self-service restaurant) or La Gerbe de Locronan (the Café). The ship sails on British Time but I altered my wristwatch to French time, ready for arrival in France.

Ships seen: Pride of Bilbao, Endurance, Arrow, and lots of naval warships.

Tuesday 24th August 2010
Sunshine beamed through my cabin window and the open decks called, to watch us arriving in the picturesque little town of St. Malo.

A Condor ferry left the port whilst our ramp was being lowered for the cars to disembark, and we could look out at the several Basins which make up the port.

Footies were soon allowed off to take the ubiquitous coach to the terminal building, and then we were free to walk to our hotel to settle in, before a very welcome breakfast.

We spent the day in the old City (Cite d’Alet). Much of St. Malo was badly damaged in the war but has been rebuilt or withstood events, but we planned to walk along the complete ramparts of this tiny area, a distance of about a mile. Before we could start climbing up, there was a necessary diversion to our plans: a beautiful Carousel was located just at the entrance, beside the water, and its lure was so great that I was in Cinderella’s coach in no time at all, with my companion on one of the prancing grey horses. My coach lurched back and forth gently, the horses rose and fell with the music, and we were absolutely enchanted with our surroundings.

Metaphorical midnight having struck, I left Cinderella’s coach and took to the ramparts. It was fascinating to see the views - of the water outside the walls and the solid buildings, shops and bars down below in the old City.

Cars can enter the city through just two Gates, so it was safe to descend from the ramparts as the whim took us, to walk on the pavements or streets below on one side, or on the beaches on the other, where the tide was rapidly going out.

Paths down the rocks led to damp sand (yes, date and location writing) and then on a causeway leading to a nearby island of Grand Bé, where we climbed up and around the summit to admire the tomb of Chateaubriand, and the views back to the ramparts. There was another little island further out again, accessible by another causeway, but as the tide was on the turn it seemed safer to observe the notices and return to the beaches and head up the ramparts in search of a late lunch down in the city.

The Cathedral had beautiful stained glass windows;

the little restaurant had good food for a light lunch; the shops were unusual and tempting; the perfume sample was Divine (that’s what the label said); the café stop for a cup of tea had a short row of French cinema seats as seating for some of its clients (I belong to the Cinema Theatre Association!) and it was an altogether fascinating time amongst the ancient walls and ramparts.

Two weary women wended their way back to the hotel, ready to head out in a different direction for a late supper at a local Brasserie. Plat du Jour was ordered, and I remember the Roquefort cheese running to meet me on the serving tray. That was a wonderful first day in St. Malo.

Wednesday 25th August 2010
It poured with rain until mid-morning so it seemed sensible to wait before walking several miles in another direction to visit the Tour Solidor. It was closed for lunch (French priorities…) so we found the decidedly French little café Globe Trotter in a back street nearby and enjoyed another memorable meal at leisure – a scallops dish for my companion and a salmon creation for me. With wine and dessert, it was excellent value; we must have said and done all the right things as we were rewarded with the exchange of kisses on the cheeks, that are normally reserved for good friends!

We visited the Tour Solidor with its sea-going memorabilia, including a stuffed albatross with its wings out-flung, looming at us out of the gloom on one floor of this high tower. The other items and photographs from local ship owners and captains were fascinating. From the roof top we could look towards the River Rance and the barrage that had been built beside part of it.

The rain had eased by then, so our route home took us to the Rose Gardens to enjoy the tranquillity and sight of the profusion of perfumed roses set amongst paths, grass and arbours.

One nearby lane brought us into a little local High Street, where I found a shop selling embroidery and sewing items. The outside hand-painted murals were on orange-coloured board, colour-matched moments later by the shop owner wearing orange coloured clothes to match her orange-coloured hair. She found what I hoped to buy, having seen it in the window, and pleasantries were exchanged, so we were both happy.

We needed a cup of tea by this time (hours and miles since lunch) so went into the darkness of a local narrow café entrance, to be greeted by a smiling young proprietor keen to practise his English, while I was keen to practise my French – nothing unusual here! We sat down and noticed we were beside a large picture of a nude female, whilst further along the dark room was women’s clothing hanging up. Tea was ordered and equilibrium restored when the owner explained he was an artist and all the mostly abstract and colourful pictures around the café were his work and for sale; he had also designed beautiful appliqué flowers which were used by his business partner on women’s black disco-wear, and these were hanging at the rear of the shop if we wanted to see them.

There was a lot to talk about on our way home!

Supper that evening at a local Brasserie was small but enjoyable, with mussels and trout on the menu.

Thursday 26th August 2010
We return home today, with an early check in at the ferry ready for the 10.30 a.m. sailing, again on Brittany Ferries BRETAGNE. I’d booked an inside cabin for the day crossing, so we could leave luggage and use the facilities if we chose, if the ship was full.

I remembered seeing Kennels marked on the ship’s plan, so went to Reception to ask if it would be possible to visit them (we’d tried to locate them by ourselves). We were asked to return at 12 noon, and when we did so we met the family of two dogs in the Kennels, and they were more than happy to let us accompany them. We all followed a member of staff down several decks into non-public spaces and met two beautiful white Samoyeds. We were all taken out on the Deck 5 stern, amongst the capstans and behind the car ramp, and enjoyed walking and playing with the pets for a while. It was quite a contrast to return to the noise and crowds back in Reception, but we were grateful to the dog owners.

A light lunch in La Baule set us up for the afternoon’s entertainment. Brittany Ferries had arranged for a Summer Entertainment on board the day crossings back from St.Malo to Portsmouth for 6 weeks, ending 2nd September, and it was to be a pantomime of "Dick Whittington – a Ship’s Adventure", for adults and children alike. The Gwenn Ha Du show lounge was nearly full as the music started at 2.45 p.m. and we all sat round wondering just what to expect from a Summer Pantomime. It started at 3 p.m. on schedule, and we were all amazed as King Rat leapt onto the small stage with lights flashing and rolling of drums. This inevitably resulted in one very small child screaming in terror and being rushed out by his mother. I have to say that the rest of us laughed, sympathetically of course.

The show that followed was slick, cleverly done by just 9 actors/actresses, with a good script, music and dancing. Small children were invited on stage for a little competition, which was funny and done very nicely, but of course there had to be several departures from the script during the whole time for various reasons, and the ad-libs were so funny. I found the whole thing hilarious and haven’t laughed so much for a long time – it was a wonderful afternoon of entertainment, and what a good idea during a day at sea.

The cast were available for photographs afterwards, but I simply wanted to congratulate them. Souvenir posters signed by the cast were available too, as a thank you for a donation into a local Macmillan Nurses collection box beside the stage, which I thought was a lovely touch.

Back in the real world it was time to pack up and get ready for arrival in Portsmouth and then the trains home.

St. Malo had been just as interesting and rewarding as I hoped it would be, in mostly warm sunny weather, and getting there and back by sea on Brittany Ferries BRETAGNE was the ideal way of doing it, in my opinion.

02 October 2010

Funchal Cruise 5th September 2010 Part 3 (the final one)

Funchal Cruise Part 3 (the final one)

Wednesday 8th September 2010
The ship arrived alongside the ship-like terminal building in Ceuta before sunrise, so I watched dawn breaking just before the excursion coaches left the rain-soaked quayside for their visit to Tetouan in Morocco.

Ceuta is a very small Spanish city, an enclave located in north Africa, sharing a border with Morocco. I find it interesting that the Spanish Government object to the British ‘ownership’ of Gibraltar, but seem to have no problem with the Spanish ‘ownership’ of Ceuta, but life offers many points to ponder…

We had time for a leisurely breakfast before I set out to walk around the town and see the castle. The early morning rain had stopped, the sky was clearing and the heat rising so it was all very pleasant. I went into several ferry company ticket offices but there were few brochures available, so I walked into the walled town and took photos of the lovely FUNCHAL. I noticed well-kept gardens, mostly filled with stray cats, which made a change from the usual stray dogs!

On my way back I heard ambulance noises, and saw what I called ‘an ambulance chaser’ i.e. someone in another vehicle following the ambulance, with a very large camera on his shoulder, who was videoing everything as he went. As I approached the quayside I realised the ambulance was approaching the ship, followed by several police cars and more ambulances. That was worrying, as I knew the four of us were all doing independent things this morning.

As I reached the entrance gate to the quay and ship I could hardly believe my eyes: everywhere there were dozens of people sitting in white plastic chairs, with bandages, blue towels, neck braces, blood, plaster casts and other signs of injuries. I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to hurry on board to see what had happened, and check that my dear friends were all right. The dreadful news was that one of the excursion coaches that had been travelling in convoy had skidded off the road near Tetouan in Morocco and fallen down into a ravine or gully. Nine people had been killed and many injured. Some of the injured had been brought back to the ship on the other coach, while many others were taken to four different hospitals to be treated.

Some injured were treated on the quayside, some were able to get back on the ship, but it was all so dreadful. There was nothing we could do to help, but I found that on board one or two ladies came up to me and patted my arm and asked whether I was all right, and my friends, and I did the same to them. I think everyone on board was in shock, injured or otherwise, and it was hard to settle to anything. Everyone talked to everyone else, for reassurance as much as anything.

FUNCHAL remained in port and we were told that the ship would stay in Ceuta until injured passengers could be released from their hospitals and that is what happened. All entertainment on board was of course cancelled, but the bars did a very busy trade. Day turned to dusk as we were finally told that the ship would be leaving Ceuta and heading fast back to Lisbon, so it was a very sombre scene on board as we sailed away. Dinner was not the expected cheerful last night event; I spoke to the Restaurant Manager and asked him to give our sympathies to the families and injured passengers, and he was most kind and emotional as we spoke and hugged. On deck after dinner we stood looking up at the stars and ship’s wake, and wondering about life. I noticed a small older lady just gazing down the stairs to the well deck, and decided to go and see if she was all right as she was alone. She wasn’t all right, she had lost her friends and life would never be the same again, so it was time for a comforting hug for her and tears for both of us. She patted my face and walked away – poor lady.

Ships seen: Ciudad de Malaga, Jaume III, Euroferrys Pacifica, Celebrity something far off at sea, Breant of Stamp Line, Ceuta Jet (ex Nordic Jet), Ils de Los Volcanos of Peregar

Thursday 9th August 2010
The ship was sailing fast – about 22 knots we think, rather than the usual 18 – to get us back to Lisbon. I like to think that we were listening to the metronomic rhythm of the engines. We had left Ceuta about 7 hours late so we were given an expected time of arrival back at the Alcantara Cruise Terminal of 5.30 p.m. The sea was quite choppy and many passengers were seasick or queasy, just to add to the misery on board, but I think most of us were just relieved to be heading ‘home’. My three friends knew they would miss their daytime flights but my flight was early evening so I hoped I might be able to catch that.

Mealtimes were welcome and very noisy and helped a lot, as we could all be in a crowd and talk.

We arrived back in Lisbon at 5.30 p.m. to find a queue of ambulances lined up on the quayside to take the injured passengers to hospital or home, plus a large crowd waiting behind the ISPS fencing with cameras, and even a helicopter flying over us for some minutes. Whilst we were on deck watching FUNCHAL being tied up, we were excited to see the new Kristina Cruises vessel heading towards us, out of the Cruise Terminal along the River Tagus: it was the KRISTINA KATARINA.

She was soon followed by the cruise ship DISCOVERY, which was another good surprise, as I had never seen her before.

Eventually goodbyes were said, including to the Cruise Director Telmo Miranda, who had been absolutely magnificent in his care and attention to everyone and everything, during the cruise and particularly in the last two days.

I was allowed to leave the ship in due course, with Soren, to try and get my flight home from Lisbon airport that evening and I was successful in that.

Ships seen: Kristina Katarina, Discovery

The cruise on FUNCHAL had been memorable - she is such a little treasure of a ship - and we hope the future conversion work to make her fully SOLAS-compliant will ensure that she is with us for many years to come. Judging by what we have heard of Classic International Cruises and Mr George Potamianos and his love for his ships, we should have no fears for FUNCHAL!