Tuesday, 10 September 2013


Craig Writes; 
Yo ho ho and a bottle of red. We have finally set sail on the magnificent Royal Princess, all 141,000 tonne of her and all 3560 of us, plus crew of course. She was only launched in June 2013, so she should just about have all the bugs ironed out by now. Rather than be boring and spend 1000 words describing the ship, here's a link so you can see for yourself, if you're interested. Royal Princess
Our boat
Our first port of call today was Toulon, Provence. Now we've just spent a few days in this beautiful part of France so our big adventure was not going ashore but taking the opportunity of practically having the whole ship to ourselves to go exploring and use the facilities without any crowds. A leisurely workout in the gym, which even on a sea day is never overcrowded, unlimited shooting at the target range, shootin some hoops and generally just wandering.
Shootin' hoops with da boys
Even on our last day at sea we were still blown away by the sheer magnitude of this thing.

4-6/09/13 Even as early as the second day you could see certain habits starting to form. Free food is everywhere you turn. And I mean good stuff, freshly baked roast beef rolls with mustard and cheese, seafood salads, great pizza and fresh pastries that just keep appearing. So, with the novelty still very new you do what you do. We ate, then we ate some more. 

The thing with this whole cruising thing seems to be that you have to get yourself involved or you end up doing nothing but eating and lying around the pool baking like a fresh croissant. Not necessarily in the karaoke contest or the movie trivia nights but get out and get a slice of some of the great entertainment they have on board.
Thought we'd get the early seats
So far we have seen a comedian,who was pretty good, certainly better than Tim Allen who we saw in Vegas and each day they have really interesting talks on the next days port. It's history, best things to see, places to avoid etc. Todays was on Napoli. They have a giant movie screen in the centre of deck 17 which is where the main pool and eating areas are. Here they show movies and live concerts through the day and late into the night. We've seen two movies under the stars so far. You lie on your poolside recliner and they bring you drinks, pizza, cookies and milk and popcorn. Even a little rug if the night air is a bit chilly. Talk about pampered. Last night when the others were settling in for the night I went to see the Ian Bacon Jazz trio. I had a sampler of three very nice aged Scotches while sitting back and taking in some very good late night jazz. With the omnipresent buffets and snack venues I have devised a morning routine of yoga on the top deck followed by a work out in their oh so excellent gym. It's that or a new wardrobe. Callum and I decided to enter a ping pong tournament today, coz we're both such hot ping pong players, and blow me down I made the semi finals. There were only six people in it though. 
Warming up for the Big Tournament
Damn those tricky Asians and their sizzling spinning return shots
Tell me why do the Asians always win those things? They have the most amazing simulated shooting range here. Turns out I'm a pretty good shot so I'll go in the shooting comp when they have that. You have to be 18 and over to use it but a little of the old aussie charm and they let Callum have a go. Even Charlie had a turn. It turns out Callum is also a bit of a sharpshooter.

Christina and I decided that we should make the investment and bought ourselves a pass to the Lotus Spa Enclave for the duration of the cruise. It is an amazing spa including three different steam saunas, a huge spa pool, heated ergonomic curved seats, four different showers ranging from a soft mist to a tropical rain and then a relaxation room with teas, water, fruit and some soothing music to relax in. 

We've been on board for the last three days but tomorrow we start to play tourist again with a trip to Pompeii. It has been great having Eleanora and Mike on board with us. We're all pretty well much doing our own thing during the day and catching up for a show or dinner in the evening. Fantastic show tonight, A pianist for Frank Sinatra for over thirteen years, Ray Coussins also happens to have a bit of a rat pack thing goin on with his own singing style. I think he was channelling a bit of his old boss and some of the many pals who Ray got to play with over the years. Sammy Davis jnr, Dean Martin, Tony Bennet and so many more. It was exactly what you'd expect from an old Vegas showman. Some great music punctuated by some A grade name dropping stories. Like the time Liz Taylor came sat next to him on the piano to make Richard Burton jealous. Then he'd turn back to the keys and bang out Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue like it was the last song he'd ever play. He had some great stories and played some mean piano. 
7/09/13 Today was time to get off the boat and go for a walk through the ancient ruins of Pompeii and The Museum of Archeology in Napoli.

This guy likely had no idea what hit him
I was hoping that was just my stomach rumbling
There has been much fuss made about Napoli being the birthplace of pizza and how good the traditional pizza of mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil, the colours of the Italian flag, was. Sorry Napoli, not even in my top 10, not even close. And this from a place recommended by our taxi driver, you'd think he'd know. Soft undercooked crust, very little cheese and one scraggly bit of basil. Pompeii was interesting. It is a massive place to walk through and we didn't do the place justice. One member of our travelling troupe did not want to be there and it made it all a bit to much like hard work.
Check out the chariot ruts worn into the stone
We were there for two hours but you're going to need half a day to do it justice, a litre and a half of water and some snacks. You can't buy anything once you're inside the city ruins. We also found it very poorly set out for the tourist in respect to finding your way around. It is not well signposted. You are given a numbered map but you have to do a bit of detective work to find the numbers. They're tiny and in some cases hidden behind other information boards. You definitely want to get yourself a tour guide here. Having said all that, it has been amazingly excavated and you get a very real feel for life in the city prior to 79AD when Mt Vesuvius exploded in all her glory. She sits just behind the city, a benign looking hill, hardly capable of causing such destruction. But looks are not always what they seem and even today she remains still very much alive and capable of causing havoc. 

8/09/13 Today was is what we in the cruising world call a "sea day". Effectively we're that far away from our next port we have to "put the foot down" for a full day and night to reach the next stop which means everyone on board for the day. This is not as bad as it sounds. There are enough places for people to disappear to that it never seems crowded. And, they are very organised here, there's lots to do. I spent the morning on the simulated rifle range and in the batting cages then some swimming with the kids and then a relaxing afternoon in the spa with Christina.
Just one of the many distractions
Tonight was the first "Formal" night and time to break out the rented Tux. My my, it's been a while, close to 20 years maybe, since I wore a tux. It was fun. Pretty well most of the guests get in the swing of things and dress up. What a fine looking bunch we were.

The things you do for a free champagne. It was great fun
Beautiful new ship, everyone dressed to the max, a band playing, all we needed was an iceberg.

9/09/13. Today we landed at Mykonos in Greece. It was a short stay. On the island at 9.30am and back for lunch around 12 as the boat sails at 1.30pm. It was just as you had seen it in the movie Shirley Valentine and perhaps you glimpsed it briefly at the end of the Matt Damon movie, The Bourne Identity. All white washed buildings, pale blue shutters and clear pristine beaches. And tourists, lots of em. It's a small town and there isn't a lot of places to hide a sudden influx of 3,500 people.
Aarrr Mykonos, you beguiling jewel of the Mediterranean
Who knew the Greeks invented the first vertical Hills Hoist
A rare deserted street, isn't it just perfect?
What a picture, The Med, Mykonos and The Royal Princess
It would have been good to have the luxury of spending a full day there and maybe catching a bus to one of the more sheltered beaches. The wind was really up today and when we got back to the boat the towels we took were as dry as what they were when I packed them. An excuse to come back I suppose. Got to say the coffee in Greece comes in a poor third behind France and Italy but still miles ahead of the US.

10/09/13. Istanbul, a massive city of over 13 million people and a history that goes back to the Byzantines in 685 B.C. A city of magnificent palaces, majestic monuments and amazing museums that has been home to the Roman, Byzantine and finally the Ottoman Empire. It is also the only city in the world that straddles two continents, Asia and Europe Our time was limited here, as it tends to be when your doing the whole cruising thing.
It is, without doubt, one of the most intriguing places we've been to
We picked the couple of sites that most interested us. 

Point of interest: The tulip did not originate in the Netherlands. It came from Turkey and was introduced to the Netherlands several hundred years ago. 

Our first stop was Hagia Sophia.

The Hagia Sophia
A magnificent example of Byzantine architecture and Istanbul's first and oldest mosque. A place full of mystery and contradiction, a lot of which was revealed to us by our guide Selahattin. We don't normally go the route of the private guide and I think that it cost us in Pompeii. So this time we paid the 30 Euro and got our own guide for about an hour. He was amazing, a real student of ancient religion, architecture and history. He absolutely boggled my mind with revelation after revelation of the history of religion, the real discoverers of our solar system and so much more. We will be taking guides whereever we can from here on in. Hagia Sophia first started it's life as The Church of Holy Wisdom, built by the Roman emperor Constantine The Great in 325 A.D. When the Ottomans took over in 1453 they gave it a facelift, plastered over the amazing mosaics and it became a muslim mosque. There is a 9th century mosaic of ArchAngel Gabriel holding a globe of the world in his left hand. A "globe of the world", in the 9th century, think about that.
A 9th century mosaic showing Gabriel with a Globe of the world, Columbus wasn't around until the 15th Century. I love a good mystery.
There is a mosaic pictorial, over 1,500 years old, surrounding the sacred spot where the Emperors were corornated. It shows the nine planets of our solar system plus the sun, the moon and Orion. All in varying shapes according to their respective sizes.
This is about 1000 years before it's time
I say again, a map of our solar system over 1,500 years old. There was so many other amazing things bit's of information this guy kept throwing at us. I wish I had written them all down. Next stop before a very traditional Turkish lunch was The Blue Mosque. Built fairly recently in the early 17th century, this place takes it's name from the breathtaking interior. Over 20,000 blue and green Iznik tiles adorn the walls and floors cast an ethereal glow throughout.
Blue skies, Blue mosque, Blue shirt, so nice to be at one with your surroundings
Unfortunately, by the time we got there it was closed for prayers but we got to enter the massive paved court yard where thousands come to pray. One of the staff on board the ship said the interior was indeed beautiful but with thousands of people removing their shoes every day to pray and Johnson and Johnson foot powder not being in big supply, there was a really bad pong of bad cheese in the air that made it hard to stay for too long. After a brief look around the exterior we headed back to the restaurant strip and allowed ourselves to be sweet talked into walking up four floors to a look-out restaurant. Glad we did. The view over the Hagia Sophia out to the ocean was great, the beer was cold and the Haloumi was fresh and salty. The eggplant dips, the yogurt dips and the tomato and eggplant stew were unbelievable. I even had a couple of dolmades that I normally would not go within a mile of and they were delicious.
The Turkish food was brilliant
The jury is still out on the coffee
The Grand Bazaar was our final stop before heading back. With over 4,000 shops under cover and 18 different entrances we were warned not so much about pick pockets but more about getting lost and missing the last bus back to the boat. It was quite an experience. We even had one crusty old guy who obviously wasn't having a great day whisper to us as we left the bustling markets, "hey you, you buy something or I shoot you". 

It's like Alladin's cave in there
We kept walking and I turned to Christina to make sure I had heard right. Yep, he said he would shoot us if we didn't buy something. I looked back after a few metres and I could see the old bastard was still looking our way. Very interesting. Old men threatening to shoot you aside, we loved Istanbul and would love to go back but for a few days or even a few weeks. It is an enormous city so rich in history and diversity. A place to return to.

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