10th September 2014
Baie-Comeau – Quebec
Once again it’s a beautiful day (aren’t we doing well?) and the first thing we notice as we step ashore is the most amazing smell of wood. The air is thickly filled with this rich and pleasant aroma which oozes from the vicinity of the paper mill, the main source of income for the town. It instantly feels like we’re walking through a pine forest on a sunny day, except of course the dockside is concrete and we’re surrounded by containers.
There are shuttle buses laid on to ferry the masses into town, about two kilometres away, but as it’s such a lovely day we decide to walk. Leaving the port area the path around the estuary is flat and very easy, and eventually it opens up into a huge expanse of parkland. The map which was handed out at the port leads us through the park, past a very pretty turreted ‘Manoir’, down through a small housing estate and onto the town beach. Now unfortunately the tide is out and the lovely smell of wood has somewhat been replaced by something a little more ‘fishy’. There are mounds of empty mussels shells, dare I say millions of them, all forming great swathes of bluey black patterns across the sand. Surely this is a visual testament to the fresh, clean, nutritious waters of the St Lawrence Seaway.
We enjoyed a long walk on this almost deserted beach, flanked on the land side by huge multi-coloured slabs of rock, topped by unbroken lines of trees full of crows, rooks and other birds busily feasting on the remains of the mussels.
Time to get back to the town and explore the local area a bit more, so we continue to follow the trail map and find ourselves at the main church. After visiting a grotto dedicated to Mary at the top of the hill, we walked up the steps into the main building. Hmmm my pet hate……they’re charging us $5 each to enter a church!! Ok I accept it costs money to keep these places in a good state of repair etc, and I will always put a donation in the box after a visit, but it annoys me that the money is demanded from me rather than allowing me to give voluntarily. It rankles me I admit, but hey ho that’s just my opinion, moan over.
Anyway it’s an interesting place, very brightly decorated with murals and fabrics, lots of gold and marble etc. But to be honest there wasn’t much of an atmosphere and it all felt a little contrived and sterile for a place of worship (no I’m not just saying that because I was hassled for money at the entrance) Then we overhear one of the guides telling a visitor that it’s no longer used as a regular place of worship. They only hold one service a year in order to keep it as a sanctified building, but the rest of the time it’s a museum and the locals worship in another church just around the corner……ok!
Enough of all this nonsense, time to find a drink and discover the true heart of the community. This time it takes the form of a couple of pints in an almost deserted town centre, probably the smallest and shortest ‘high street’ we’ve ever encountered, but the beer is good, very good in fact and it’s a shame that more of our fellow cruisers hadn’t discovered the delights of sitting outside with an ice cold local bevy. Their loss…….
Anyway, Baie-Comeau in summary. Once again the people are friendly and welcoming, the area is very pretty and it was worth the visit just for the glorious smell of wood. Apparently there is more to do further afield beyond the town which is good, and although first impressions are that this is a very sleepy place there is plenty to do and see.
Back on the ship there is many a moan about the lack of anything interesting to do here, but unless there are naked bears and dancing women (or is it the other way round?) some folk will never be happy. This type of place is unlikely to ever be glitzy or glamorous, there’s no zip-lining through the trees or barrel riding over a waterfall, not even a catamaran trip with snorkelling and endless rum punch. But then if everywhere was the same there wouldn’t be any point in going anywhere different…………would there?
9th September 2014
Gaspe – Quebec
Once landed we walked across the bridge and helped by a fair number of men in hard hats waving flags to stop oncoming traffic we meander down onto the boardwalk which led us up to the Gaspesienne Museum. This holds the history of the development of the region where some interesting standing stones depicting the attitude of the settlers toward the indigenous people (or visa versa) and some nice gardens with statues. The nearby Forillon park wasn’t quite nearby enough to walk to but apart from the town the entire area was covered with greenery and very pretty.
Back into the town and a visit to a modern church with some unusual architecture and colourful modern stained glass windows. Then a walk to the far side of town bought us to a more tradition church building clad all in white overlapped boards, and the time had come to indulge in our habitual investigation of the local fare. Several beers later we headed back on board the ship wondering how we’d had such a hot and sunny day this far north at this time of year, not what we’d expected but obviously very welcome.
As for Gaspe, well it was certainly a very nice place to visit, friendly and welcoming, excellent food and local beer…….but maybe next time we’d need to book a trip into the national park or take the train to Perse for something else to do. We were told the views from the train were magnificent, but it appears the train only runs on certain days and then mainly for the benefit of cruise ship tours. We were very lucky with the weather but if it had rained there was little here to keep you occupied for a whole day, unless like us you’re content to sit watching the world go by with a beer in hand.
8th September 2014
Sea Day – Ice bucket challenge
I suppose after yesterday’s hectic day in St John’s it’s nice to have a sea day to recover, you could say that after the transatlantic crossing they’re gradually introducing us back to ‘terra firma’ very gently.
I still find the sensation of the land moving under your feet after several days at sea very unnerving. I don’t mind the ship rolling with the sea but somehow the feeling that the land is swaying is somewhat worrying. Anyway it’s been a nice warm day at sea travelling into the St Lawrence Seaway with the sight of land on both sides of the ship. It’s even prettier in the evening with all the lights shining from the shore, all different colours and patterns to keep the simplest of minds amused for hours (yes I am talking about myself)
I have been quite surprised to have avoided being nominated for the ice bucket challenge so far, and since we’ve been on the ship I was staring to assume it was beginning to fizzle out somewhat, after all I think most of the population of the world have taken part. To my amazement I’ve been nominated by my brother in law Nigel in the last couple of days, so I suppose I need to get something organised. Talking to some of the staff in the restaurant I’m surprised at just how far round the world this idea has travelled. Thailand, the Philippines and many of the pacific islands have taken part and for me that is a true testament of the generosity and good will of (the majority of) mankind.
Unfortunately most of the folk I know have already taken part, so my own nominations can only stretch to those of you who read this who have not yet been involved in this crazy but highly successful phenomenon. Please if you’ve not already done so donate a dollar, a pound or a euro to help find some sort of help for those affected by ALS, or Motor Neurone as we know it in the UK. But having said that my good friend Peter is just about to receive a text to tell him the good news, and he’s my main choice.
I’m not able to upload a video as it would take too long using the satellite internet on the ship, so you’ll just have to settle for a photo of the event instead.
It was the only way I could get any ice or a bucket………..honestly.
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting Gaspe for the first time (that’s us not the ship) and the weather promises to be good once again so we’re really looking forward to another pleasant day ashore.
7th September 2014
St John’s – Newfoundland
Right……time for this blogger to get serious…..why?
Well because St John’s is a seriously good place to visit.
We docked fairly early and as usual we waited for most of the rest of the ship to disembark before we headed ashore, mainly because it takes so long to get all those going on the ships tours off the boat it’s easier to have a lazy breakfast and take our time. Anyway the weather is fantastic, a lovely warm and sunny day but quite humid, still mustn’t grumble.
We set off toward Signal Hill, the place the first transatlantic cable came ashore back in the 1800’s, and a great lookout spot for the troops at the time to place their big cannon to protect their settlement. On the way up the steep hill we came across the Geo-park and took a detour to explore the history of the area via reconstructions of the structures and dwellings of the first settlers. Very interesting even if there was no running water, wi-fi or memory foam mattresses.
There were quite a number of people around us but we were surprised to note that we’re the only tourists, everyone else was a local resident busily picking the plethora of wild bilberries for their tea.
So we pressed on up the hill, now having to work harder to battle the strengthening wind near the top. The views were amazing, only spoilt by masses of other tourists clamouring for the best spot overlooking the bay.
The real beauty of the place is that from this spot several coastal paths have been meticulously constructed and for the next two hours we ambled around these boardwalks admiring the wonderful sights around each corner.
We return to the road leading back into the town via the estuary path which would have been quite treacherous in the past, but now it’s been made so easy and enjoyable to walk along with the construction of a meandering wooden pathway. We stopped to peruse a map we’d been given at the terminal (there is that awful word again) and several of the locals stop to show concern that we may be lost or even worse not enjoying ourselves in their town. They point us in the direction of the local lake (a short walk away) and tell us there’s a quaint fishing village at the far end of the lake with a pub which produces its own ale. Before they have time to wish us well on our journey we’re off, after all who can resist local brew. However on reaching the lake we realise that reaching the pub before the ship sails is very unlikely…….considering this lake is almost the size of Wales. Ah well, maybe next time.
We finally made it back into the town centre and visit the cathedral where you have to be careful of falling masonry pretty much everywhere inside the main sanctuary???????? I reckon back in the UK the whole place would have been condemned until the whole of the roof was replaced.
The walk had taken its toll and we needed refreshment. More locals had obviously noticed this fact and we were swamped with recommendations. Most of them cited ‘The Duke’ as the best purveyor of fish and chips in the region so once again off we set, hoping this time our goal was still in the northern hemisphere.
Fortunately it wasn’t too far away and we’d just made it into ‘The Duke’ when the heavens opened and what can only be described as a deluge continued for around an hour. Lucky or what??
Now I’m not the greatest lover of fish, for me it’s all a bit too fishy, but it is fair to say this was fish so fresh it melted in the mouth, just delicious. The beer was really good as well and after the rain had finally abated we set back off for the ship, our faces bathed with the broadest of smiles following a truly special day……..Thank you St John’s.
The verdict…….this is a great place to visit but be warned the hills are steep and bountiful. The wind when it blows is nothing short of a hurricane and if the locals direct you somewhere assume it’s on the other side of the world. Oh and one more warning, don’t stop and stand too close to the edge of the pavement unless you intend to cross the road. Why? Well because all the drivers we saw slammed on the anchors if any pedestrian was within spitting distance of the kerb. On more than one occasion we weren’t intending on crossing but felt obligated to when cars stopped in unison, from both directions, whenever they saw us even deviate slightly as we walked down the road. Really considerate but so bloody annoying.
6th September 2014
Sea Day – Inside Out
Much better day as far as the fair weather cruisers are concerned and the sun is back out, and therefore so are the brown wrinkly bodies. I’ve commented before about how much sun some of our older companions expose themselves to and although it’s not the prettiest of sights there is the more worrying aspect with regards to the potential risk of melanomas. But then maybe as we age we care less about certain things, and mainly do we worry less about what happens to ourselves? In the fullness of time I may be able to give you an answer but I’ve still got a long way to go before I know………..I HOPE.
Great story has emerged today about the lady who has complained that the inside cabin she booked doesn’t have a window overlooking the sea, or any window for that matter. When the guest relations manager explained that only outside cabins have windows she got really shirty and asked why a cabin outside would need a window when it’s already…….well already outside. It took a while for the crew member to explain that the outside cabin wasn’t actually outside but rather outside on the inside, whereas the inside was in fact inside the outside cabins and therefore if it did have a window then it would be looking directly inside an outside cabin and not outside.
As a gesture of goodwill she was then offered a complementary upgrade to an outside cabin. She thanked the manager for his kind offer but said she’d prefer to have a cabin on the inside which had a window looking outside rather than being in an outside cabin with a window looking outside, which she considered was actually impossible. When it was pointed out again that the cabin wasn’t actually outside but rather inside, outside the inside one she already had, she asked if she could have one with a sea view instead.
I believe the guest relations manager is flying home on long term sick leave tomorrow. Talking of which we’ll actually be on dry land tomorrow, Newfoundland to be exact and the town of St John’s. Hopefully then some sanity will return both to the passengers and this blogger, but I guess there’s a good chance for one but certainly not the other.
5th September 2014
Sea Day – how much longer the cry goes out
The weather has cut up a bit rough today and many have taken to their cabins to lie down for the duration of the less than perfect weather. Now I just love this because I actually want to feel the ship move (but not too much hopefully) I find that the movement of the ship as it follows swell of the ocean reminds me how powerful the sea is and how completely awesome and dangerous nature can be.
I also love it because the ship is lovely and quiet without everyone milling around moaning about this and complaining about the other. I’m not sure if it’s an age thing or whether it’s just the type of folk who cruise, but boy oh boy do some of these geriatrics know how to whinge?
It’s too hot or too cold in the cabin and despite the fact they have a thermostat they can control the temperature with they can’t be bothered. The foods too this or the entertainment is too that, the swimming pools not open (and even when it is no one goes in it) Nothing escapes their attention and no one is immune from scrutiny. Now here’s the interesting bit. In my experience those who complain the most are the biggest pains in the universe. They cough and sneeze without putting up a hand to capture their escaping germs, they refuse to queue, they talk with mouths full of food, they witter on incessantly about themselves and always load their plates with the last of the bananas, yes even if there are twenty left they take all twenty…….
So there you have it, the downside of cruising, but hey it’s not that bad really because it gives me loads of inspiration……….just like this –
All my life I’ve been perfect
And have always been one
To look up to and get good advice
I’m humble and caring, with generous streak
And I’m honest and truthful and nice
I’m always on time
And I’ve never been known
To be grumpy nor glare with distain
Unbelievably happy whatever life throws
And I’ve never been heard to complain
I never jump queues
And I keep my mouth shut
Whether chewing my lunch or some gum
Never leave the seat up
Never lewd or unkind
With my comments
And always such fun.
And I’m always polite
Unlike some I could name
Highly polished and cultured, so sweet
I am never too loud
And prefer just to sit
Never argue or boast to compete
So as you can see
Good as gold I have been
The ultimate husband and son
A model employee
An incredible friend
Unbelievably loyal, loved a ton
So when I go cruising
I feel duty bound
Not to act as my usual self
It’s a must that I let down what’s left of my hair
Leaving manners back home on the shelf
I must whinge, I must moan
And quite often I do
After all I’m just here on a break
From my usual life, it’s not easy you know
Cause it’s so very hard being this fake
So I’ll grunt a ‘Good Morning’
Cough and sneeze on your food
Fuss and moan like I don’t give a rat
You just have to accept that I’m playing a game
This is not really me
It’s an act.
Because unlike the rest
I’ve been perfect for years
This my chance to have oodles of glee
But then I’m assuming you’re doing the same
And being a pratt, just like me?
WELL THAT’S WHAT I THINK ANYWAY (AHEM)
4th September 2014
Sea Day – again but who’s counting?
Well it’s Thursday, three days at sea behind us and still three more days to run until we reach land. Surprisingly the weather has been holding up well, the sun’s shining, the seas are calm at the moment and I’ve managed to redden my nose in the most dramatic fashion. It must be something to do with this particular ship as the last time we were on here we both managed to underestimate the power of the sun when combined with a very cooling Atlantic breeze.
The captain has entertained us daily with the usual midday report from the bridge on the state of the sea, the state of the sky and the state of the ship. Thankfully ‘all is well’ and he really seems to relish telling us things that ‘we may or may not believe’. But we’re all having a bit of trouble understanding his thick Scandinavian accent and most of his report sounds quite garbled. Let’s hope that when the call to ‘abandon ship’ is made we don’t all think he’s just announced ‘A ban on chips’ and everyone throws themselves over board from the sheer disappointment of such a catastrophe (Ah just realised……..same effect really so jobs a ‘gud un’)
There’s appears to be a new game worth playing at the moment as the vast majority of our fellow travellers are intent on catching a glimpse of whales. So we’re playing the cruising equivalent of standing in a busy street and looking up, with some amazing results. Standing on the decks and pointing out toward the horizon will almost guarantee a crowd of bystanders within minutes, convinced that they too have just seen a pod of dolphins or group of whales passing by. So funny. There are a few very keen individuals who spend most of their time at the front of the ship, dressed for arctic conditions and sporting camera equipment that could photo a fly’s eye at 100 yards. But strangely the majority of ‘proper’ sightings have been brief and purely by chance, so these keen naturalists have been mainly disappointed by the lack of whale activity.
Out in the middle of the ocean for days you start to appreciate the vastness of our planet and our own total insignificance in the grand scheme of things. We strive to fill our lives with all the trappings of modern life and yet the sheer beauty and wonder of nature is right there in front of us, and it’s free (if you don’t count the cost of the cruise that is lol)
3rd September 2014
Sea Day – A bright and sunny day
More importantly it’s our 35th wedding anniversary and I can’t believe where the time has gone. But I am grateful to the lovely lady who’s put up with me for all those years. Happy Anniversary Cheryl xx
There used to be a very popular TV show that claimed ‘Animals do the funniest things’ the grammar implying nothing else could be funnier. But I have to totally disagree with that statement because I’ve yet to see an animal acting as daft as some of our fellow cruisers do.
It’s an undeniable fact that there is enough food on the average cruise ship to……well to ‘sink a ship’ (if you’ll excuse the pun) But there always seems to be a number of individuals on board who feel the cruise company is laying down some sort of a challenge and are determined to do their very best to try eating their way through several tons of delicious fare. But in order to attempt this seemingly impossible feat they are forced to spend all morning charging round the decks at a million miles an hour in the hope that they’ll burn off most of the calories they consumed at breakfast in order to prevent themselves from actually exploding during lunch. This activity is then repeated in the afternoon for the same reasons, but only if they manage to prize themselves off the toilet first, which out of necessity is where they tend to spend most of the day.
Now please don’t get me wrong because I certainly enjoy a stroll around the promenade to treat my lungs to the clean ozone rich air all around us and to feel the fresh sea breeze and salty spray on my face (please leave the room if you had a little giggle to yourself over that last comment, shame on you.) But just lately this healthy ritual has almost become a near death experience for those of us who merely amble around at a leisurely pace as the self proclaimed ‘professional foodies’ have no choice if they don’t want to become comatose from hyperglycaemic shook and have only one goal in mind, and woe betide anyone who gets in their way.
So we’ve discovered it’s far more entertaining (and safer) to sit around the back of the ship watching the mass of wobbly bodies panting at break neck pace around the promenade deck in hunting packs. The weak are trampled, the slow are tutted and moaned at until they concede room for the bullies to pass. They have to willingly punish themselves in order to abuse their poor overly distended stomachs further with indescribable amounts of grub at every possible opportunity, and trust me there are many, many opportunities.
And I’m reminded of a very famous poem. Here is my version……………
The Charge of the Cruise Brigade
(Influenced by ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Twenty laps, twenty laps, twenty laps onward,
All around Balmoral’s decks
Strode the six hundred.
Forward the Cruise Brigade
Charged you the food displayed
Now on the decks parade
Strode the six hundred.
Take heart the Cruise Brigade
First sitting almost laid.
Crew still in shock, amazed
How lunch was plundered.
Theirs not to give reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs just to make more pie
For the six hundred.
Burgers to the right of them,
Teacakes to the left of them,
Spare ribs to the front of them,
Tempted by custard.
Bombarded with bacon roll,
Boldly they scoffed then stole
Down to Palm Café with bowl
Starving six hundred.
Flashed knives and forks they bare,
Flashed as they feasted there.
Stunned all the waiters stare
Greedy six hundred
Straight through the buffet broke
Spurred on by rum and coke,
Sous Chef and Commis choke
Their tears greatly numbered.
Then as a savoury treat
Cheese trampled under feet
Cheddar and stilton eat
Down to the final plate
Chef is in such a state
Supper club would now be late
Damn you six hundred.
Burgers to the right of them,
Teacakes to the left of them,
Spare ribs behind them,
Where were those hiding?
With so much food in store
Rest there could be no more,
Pride has to win, for sure
Turn back six hundred.
Sound aloud that tea-time bell.
Bravely face this living hell
Till none are left to tell
Of the six hundred.
With thanks to Alfred Lord Tennyson for the original poem
2nd September 2014
Embarkation day (yesterday) was mainly good fun and trouble free. We’ve used ACP this time for parking and it was easy to find and only a short minibus ride from the terminal (there’s definitely something quite worrying about setting off from a location called terminal!)
When we arrived at the City Terminal our minibus stopped briefly at the side of the building where a group of jolly stevedores took our cases and carried them carefully to the loading area whilst whistling a happy tune, after all luggage football is never played in full sight of the customer. But in some ways I wish it was because when I’m finally reunited with my cases I really would like to be able to put a face to the bastard who managed to tenderise a brand new Samsonite into something resembling minced liver.
Security involved the usual hectic process of suspicious scrutiny by a group well trained in the art of intimidation. The lady in charge of loading up the scanner belt scowled and sniffed in utter disdain as we approached. We duly deposited all our worldly goods and dignity into her grey plastic tray and she watched me intently for any obvious tell tale signs of deceit as I removed my belt and shoes.
“Have you anything else in your pockets?”
“No,” I reply.
“Are you sure?”
I pat my pockets with gusto, “No, nothing there,” I announce with a smile.
“No…….there’s nothing left in my pockets.”
“No loose change?”
“No…….there’s nothing left in my pockets.”
“No…….as I said there’s nothing left in my pockets.” I think at this point my smile was beginning to fade.
“You still have a hand in your pocket so I thought you were checking for something. Are you wearing a belt?” she asks even though she’d watched me remove it not ten seconds ago. Maybe next time I should do it to music……….
“No I’m not. That’s why I still have my hand in my pocket, it stops my jeans falling around my ankles.”
“So there’s nothing in that pocket?”
“How about the other one?”
“Have you remembered to empty your back pockets…..wallet? comb?”
“Is that no you hadn’t remembered or….?”
“There’s nothing in my pockets.”
“Then please proceed through the scanner sir,” she said with a sarcastic grin, I started to walk away but I’m sure she was still unconvinced about the emptiness of my pockets.
“Just have one final check before you go through please sir,” she called after me, “Otherwise you might be delayed getting onto the ship.”
I’m suddenly aware that one poor guy was being led away to a private room by two burly bruisers intent on discovering the reason he’d somehow managed to make their mystical arch machiney thingy beep. He too must have been convinced his pockets were empty I thought, so like an idiot I stopped and obediently went through my pockets again…..just to be sure.
I’m convinced it won’t be long before they have us all stripped down to our underwear to ensure we’re not trying to sneak (love that word) anything remotely illicit aboard. But I have to ask how much contraband could you hide in the framework of a wheel chair or the battery compartment of a motability scooter? They meticulously inspect and x-ray the heels of our shoes and yet poor old Ethel, who is unfortunately confined to a wheelchair, is automatically waved through as if it would be deemed highly unprofessional to even consider a lady in her position could be a potential smuggler or worse.
Anyway, it’s done and we finally make it onto Balmoral and head straight for our accommodation. 9093 is a large inside cabin and although it shows a fair bit of wear and tear it’s clean and smells pleasant. Later on we’ll discover it’s also in a very quiet area of the ship. The bed is comfy, the bathroom huge, so what more can we want? Oh yes, we want biscuits of course……..but where are they?
CUTBACKS – they seem to affect everything. We last cruised with Freddie in 2011 (in fact that was our only previous cruise with FOCL) On that occasion there was a small organza bag with toiletries, but not this time. It’ll be interesting to see if there are any more ‘savings’ being made here like the ones we’ve noticed recently on P&O. Yes it’s only little things but then don’t they say it’s the little things that make it special? I’ll keep you informed.
So we’re off, with a wish for nothing more than a trouble free time over the next five weeks and a slight hope that we find at least one couple we can get along with (oh and good weather, nice food, black squirrels, nice food, beer and maybe some NICE FOOD)
And so to our table……..
With each and every sailing fresh faces would appear,
Would they all be happy? Would they all drink beer?
Would they be a nice crowd up to have some fun?
Or would they all be nutters into fighting – throwing buns?
With first night nerves all tingling, wondering who they soon would meet,
Jim and Cheryl hand in hand set off to find their seat.
(excerpt from the Ballad of Table 37, J.A.G. Nov 12)
This time we’re on a table for 8 and its number 106. Our fellow travellers appear to be a friendly bunch and quite good fun. Two couples know each other from previous Cruise Encounters (of the third kind) They are all ‘Gold Members’ and well seasoned FOCL travellers….and are definitely going to be the life and soul of the party
The food was just as we remember it, not overly generous in quantity but nicely prepared and tasty (especially the soup) Our table waiters are exceptionally attentive, probably because they appear to know the previously mentioned table companions fairly well.
So all bodes well and finally to bed, perchance to dream of……..……let’s say whales, and lobster lunches and endless walks in the cool fresh air of a glorious Canadian autumn.
Yes that’ll do nicely (donkey)