Tuesday, May 3, 2016

April 30th – London Calling

So, after 115 days, 32 countries, 51 lectures, 6 bridge narrations, 12 pounds lost, and 1 bout of pneumonia, it's time to say goodbye to the World Cruise. 

As ever, it's been a fantastic experience and one that we'll never forget. We saw 2 of the New Seven Wonders of the World (Petra and the Taj Mahal), while others were lucky enough to see 2 more (Machu Pichu and the Great Wall of China). We've eaten at 4 of the best restaurants we've ever eaten in (Lima, Bali, Dubai and Venice). We met up with lots of old friends and made lots of new ones. It's been exhausting, but it's been a blast. 

So, now we return to London to catch up with friends and family, and just as importantly to catch up on some sleep. 

There's no cruising for us for 6 months, so after a summer of travelling on our own (Palma de Majorca, Cote D'Azur, Stresa, and Sicily), we'll next be on the high seas in November on the Silver Spirit, sailing from Barcelona to Barbados, and then down the Amazon to Manaus and back.

Should be a great summer...

April 28th-29th – Last Stop Venice

This World Cruise has certainly finished on a high, with 2 fantastic days in the superb city of Venice. It started with a magical sail-into the Lagoon, as the city's church towers and palazzi slowly revealed themselves to us in the distance. My enjoyment of this serene scene is slightly different from the rest of the passengers, because I'm up on the bridge giving a narration over the PA system trying to point out what we were passing. This city is initially about the slow reveal as the anticipation mounts as we creep closer, and then, all of a sudden, there's fabulous buildings all around you – I tried not to sound too frantic as I pointed out the architectural gems that were now all around us.

That afternoon, we had time for a bit of exploring, before preparing ourselves for the masked ball that Silversea had prepared for the World Cruisers. This event certainly has a "wow factor" from start to finish – from the water taxi ride along the Grand Canal, to the visual impact of the stately 16th century Palazzo Pisano sitting on the Canal itself, to the costumed string quartet serenading our drinks reception, and finally to the magnificent restaurant, lit entirely by candles and overlooked by enormous frescoes. This was a wonderful way to finish a fantastic cruise, as we celebrated the friendships made over the last 4 months.

The next day, we had been invited to have lunch with a couple of new friends in the fantastic Cipriani Hotel, on the Giudecca across from St Marks. As the place where George Clooney had his wedding reception, the levels of luxury and magnificent service were out of this world. In keeping with the overall theme of this world cruise, there was much laughter, some delicious food, and plenty of vino.

Venice is probably the best place you can imagine to end a world cruise – fascinating history is all around you, understated opulence can easily be found, and the city's visual impact needs to be seen to be believed.

We are leaving this cruise on a high!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April 27th – Feeling The Love at The Crew Show

One of the joys of being on a World Cruise is that after 4-months together, you really get to know, and appreciate, the wonderful crew onboard.

Then, at the end of the cruise, when you go to the Crew Show, you get to find out that the person making your drinks, cooking your dinner, or cleaning your room, is a really talented singer, dancer or entertainer. Because, for most people, the Crew Show is the most entertaining night you can have on a cruise, a night of unbridled fun where the audience just want to show their appreciation for the hard work and talent of the crew. 

There's not many nights where you laugh so heartily, clap so hard, sing along so lustily, or just sit back and enjoy the fun as on the Crew Show. This is what the World Cruise is all about!

April 27th – Dubrovnik – is “The Pearl of the Adriatic” Losing its Lustre?

It's obvious why so many people come to Dubrovnik, the so-called "Pearl of the Adriatic". There's nowhere else in Europe that's maintained its medieval look as well as this exquisitely preserved walled town. Over the centuries, the town has survived pirate attacks, earthquakes and the ravages of the Yugoslav Civil War; yet, to me, it seems to be under its greatest threat today, as it submerges under the sheer weight of tourism.

Since the bombardment of the Serbians in 1991-2, in which 70% of its buildings received direct hits, the town has been sparklingly restored – so well restored in fact, that some people have accused it of being like a medieval theme park. That's probably not fair, but it is true that the amount of tourists thronging its streets, and the unashamed tourist focus of the entire town has probably killed some of the old magic of Dubrovnik.

Whenever I've been here, there's always lots of tourists in town; but, visiting right at the start of the season, and with only one other ship docked alongside us (albeit a huge Holland America monster), I wasn't expecting the town to be quite as jam-packed as it was today. The tourists were (quite literally) wall-to-wall, as those wonderful medieval walls were lined with a slow-moving constant procession of visitors. The fact that they were charging an extortionate 120 Kina ($18/€16/£12.50) to walk those walls managed to stop us joining the wall-climbing throngs. With prices like those, I don't know whether they're trying to keep the numbers down, or just milk the tourists for all that they're worth.

In my experience, the Croatians I've met have been some of the friendliest people you meet in this part of the world, however, today we experienced a certain weariness among the people we encountered in Dubrovnik's tourist trade. If they're feeling a little fed up with tourists already at this early stage of the season, I shudder to think how grumpy they'll be by the end of it.

In my (humble) opinion, the city's authorities need to do some hard thinking about how the tourist trade progresses here. Does the "pile them high, sell them cheap" (ok, not so cheap) methodology have a long-term future in a city as small as this, no matter how beautiful it is? People come here because of its historic atmosphere and its harmonious architecture – but, if the chief impression Dubrovnik has on them is of tourist hell, how long will they keep coming. 

Dubrovnik is without doubt one of the most visually attractive cities in Europe, but if you can't get to appreciate it because of the number of tourists in your way, then this pearl is in real danger of losing its lustre.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 26th – Awed By The Fjord in Kotor

You don't get many more spectacular places to sail into than the picture perfect town of Kotor in Montenegro. It's an impossibly beautiful medieval town that sits at the end of the spectacular Kotor Fjord, surrounded by steep grey mountains that contrast with the deep blues of the waters. You think that you should be in Norway, rather than on the Adriatic.

Actually, the weather for our early morning sail-in was quite Nordic too, as we were buffeted by some freezing blasts of winds blowing down from the mountains. As we stood there shivering, it was strange to think that a week ago, we were sweltering in Sharm El Sheikh. But, if you could get out of the wind, the views were simply awesome – as we sailed serenely up the fjord, making sharp turns to left and right and passing through narrow channels, we saw little church-topped islands, the Venetian campaniles of the little villages that line the fjord, and then, up ahead of us, the perfectly preserved medieval jewel that is Kotor.

Strangely enough, on getting ashore, our first mission was to get out of Kotor and try to get the bus to the little village of Perast, about 8 miles away, around the fjord. We had a strange experience at the bus station as we tried to buy our tickets. The lady wouldn't sell us tickets because she said she didn't know when the bus was coming. Can you give us some indication, we asked? "No, bus is late. Can come any time". Should we wait? "No. Bus not coming soon." So, after pausing for 10 seconds, just as we were walking away, she shouted, "Bus here. Get on now!". These Montenegrin buses appear from nowhere!

But, peaceful Perast was well worth the journey. There's nothing much there, just a small village of impressive large stone houses that are a relic of the town's time when it was one of the shipping centres of Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. We went to the small Maritime Museum to find out more, but came out none the wiser, given the almost complete lack of labels on its exhibits. But, like everything in this part of the world, the setting was the thing – with vistas like these, you can see why so many Brits and Russians are buying up holiday homes around the fjord.

So we returned to Kotor for lunch – sitting by that fjord of course – and then undertook the definitive Kotor experience, climbing the 1,300 steps up the steep hillside behind the town, following the line of its ancient fortifications. As my thighs began to burn about a third of the way up, I remembered (a bit too late) that last time I did the climb, I vowed never to do it again.

But, the amazing views kept you going – looking over the red-roof-tiled town of Kotor with the ship docked right next to it, and down that long and beautiful fjord. It really is the most amazing setting for a city. Thankfully, coming down was much easier than going up, but at the end of it all my legs were shaking – I must get in better shape.

Next time I'm in Kotor, remind me that I don't need to climb the walls!