Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Next post to this Blog.....

will be from this ship - after we board her on 05 January

Hyde Park - Winter Wonderland

We heard that there was to be a "German Xmas market" in Hyde Park - so we decided to check it out. We were a little confused because we also subsequently heard about a "Winter Wonderland" in Hyde Park - so didn't really know what to expect. Well - as soon as we arrived, we came to realise!!! - The biggest Fairground we have ever seen!! For Aussies - think of a MEGA MEGA MEGA- Sydney Easter Show sideshow alley.!!

This Fairground just went on and on - with very large rides which had obviously been a big effort to erect, even a huge Ferris wheel, second only to the "London Eye". All sorts of stalls, places to eat and drink - quite a big German input, we thought (even things like the enormous "Ghost Train".) All this coupled with the Winter/Christmas atmosphere inside Hyde Park (the Serpentine was frozen) made for a wonderful experience - and at my age, Fairgrounds are not really my thing!!  For anybody with children visiting London at Christmas time next year, I recommend this as a "must see"!!  Your children will LOVE you for it. But do what I had to do when I was a child waiting for the Brisbane Exhibition to come around - make them save their own spending money. Look here for some pics better than mine

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to London here

No white Xmas for us!

Depends on just what your definition of a "White Xmas is" - but I would have to say that we didn't have one. Most of the snow in London had disappeared by the time Christmas Day came around - although there were pockets of it remaining and patches of ice everywhere. Probably just as well really, because we had to walk a little way to an East London pub on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands for our lunch - and it was easier to trudge there than it would have been with snow underfoot. However, we
went to Windsor on the train just a couple of days before and it was still snowed in - we could see why there had been problems at the nearby Heathrow Airport as we could immediately see that the snowfall in this area must have been considerably heavier than what we got in East London. Our time in London is coming to an end now - it has been unfortunately slightly marred by my head cold which is into it's 11th day!!

We have mostly been able to do all we had planned - the most significant things (and I am sure the things we will remember most in times to come) being our long walks in the snow in Greenwich Park and Regents Park, our attendance at the Xmas Pantomine "Jack and the Beanstalk", our Xmas lunch in a Docklands pub, our trip to see Windsor Castle - and we are yet to do our favourite activity when in Britain, feeding squirrels with peanuts in a local park. (We'll do that on our last day after we have packed our bags - which are becoming alarmingly swollen). My biggest disappointment on this trip to Britain - is the lack of bird song in the Winter. I had not thought of this before - but one of my most loved things here in the past has been the songs of the British birds. There are a number of them with canary-like songs and I usually hear them almost as soon as we arrive. But that has usually been in Spring and Summer. We will be soon going down to Hampshire to stay with our friends B&G for a few days - who we have stayed with many times before - and are looking forward to that. Then we are back to sea on P&O Arcadia. We are a little hesitant about this sea voyage - we will be at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean for 6 days before we reach the Caribbean area - and it has not been looking good on the various "wave height" forecasting websites. We weren't really able to acquire any sea-legs on the way over - because the seas were mostly calm. Methinks this voyage is going to be different.

Monday, December 20, 2010

More snow pictures

I promise I won't bore you with more and more pictures of snow after this -- but we had such a nice time walking around Greenwich Park yesterday that I couldn't help including some. We are so very pleased to be here in London while it is snowing. We have been here a few times, but mostly in Spring and Summer. I spent a December in London in 1979 - but it was nowhere near as cold as now and certainly no snow then. It gives everywhere and everything (even the  grotty" areas) a whole new look - beautiful. I expect it will be not so nice when it starts to melt - muddy slush is already visible on some streets and footpaths. It does seem to be lasting quite well though - I guess it has something to do with the -8C overnight temperature.

Last night we went to a traditional Christmas Pantomine (Jack and the Beanstalk) at the Hackney Empire theatre (Website here - http://www.hackneyempire.co.uk/ ) It was a huge and amazing production (with many sets, a huge animated Giant and an animated talking Harp) - we thoroughly enjoyed it and I think it will become one of these things that we remember for years and years to come.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The power of 262 Australians

As we approached the end our our cruise on Oriana, there were 262 Australian passengers onboard. As I understand it, they were all "dreaming of a white Christmas". I wonder if they still are??

Here we are - just 24 hours after arrival in Southampton and trying to get some food from the local ASDA to restock the normally almost empty larder in my son's apartment.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Change of pace for this Blog

There are a number of different people that this Blog aims at - firstly
friends and family following us on our complete journey and secondly
cruising enthusiasts who are more interested in the cruising aspects -
plus then of course there is the rest of the World who are connected to
the Internet. Over the next three weeks, I am unsure just what/if I will
blog, probably stuff for the interest of the first group - but
certainly will restart in earnest when we board P&O Arcadia in
mid-January for the six week return trip home.

But, for now, with one day to go until we arrive in Southampton, I would
like to wish all our families, friends and blog-followers a Merry
Christmas and Happy New Year.

Barry and Christine


Finally, there is some certainty amongst passengers on this cruise - and that certainty (at least amongst the Australians onboard that I spoke to last night ) is that everybody wants to come back to Lisbon/Portugal sometime. I had a feeling that we were going to enjoy this final port - from things that I had read in various tourist blogs, etc - and we did.

For the first time, we took a shore tour that took us out of the main Capital city into quieter, more rural areas - but also managed to get a few hours in the city itself, thanks to a shuttle bus put on by P&O.
This was a good combination. It was still quite dark when we arrived around 8AM - and as dawn broke,
it looked like it was going to be a lovely day. But - it didn't take long for a heavy river fog (River Tagus) to fill in and by the time we left the ship around 9AM, it blocked any view of anything over 100 metres away. Our bus tour, however, took us out of the city to the old Royal town of Sintra in the hills and to the Royal town/fishing village of Cascais on the coast (these were about 30 klms from Lisbon). The fog lifted and we had a beautiful, clear, still and sunny morning. As usual, the visits were rushed and we could have stayed at least a week in each place - but it was a very enjoyable tour. When we returned to Lisbon in the early afternoon, the fog was still there - probably even thicker - however it gave the City a lot of "atmosphere". We all enjoyed the feel of the place - not as big, busy or polluted as other places we have visited. For the first time, we also started to feel some Christmas spirit - with chestnut sellers cooking their nuts on street corners and Santa Clauses driving the dinky little trams. It was a poor day for photography today (for me and my basic camera) - I think I may buy a better one when we reach London. I have a caught a heavy head cold - which seems to be spreading around the ship, so was feeling poorly by the time evening arrived. It appears that a group of 6 of us (Aussies) have booked a large taxi to take us all to our individual destinations in London. This has been organised by P&O - and will save us a lot of effort to bypass getting a taxi to Southampton train station, the train to London and then another taxi at the other end - especially if the weather is poor when we arrive. .

EDIT - one thing about Lisbon that does need to be said - is that we have subsequently heard of a number of pickpocketing incidents amongst passengers- with a number having purses stolen. It appears that the thieves are very well organised and work in unison, with a spotter co-ordinating the pickpockets. As far as I know this is the first place that this has happened during Oriana's World cruise

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Lisbon here

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

So near - and yet so far

During this cruise, we have been VERY fortunate weather-wise. Apart from the gale force winds we encountered for about twelve hours after leaving Greece, we have had virtually no rain at all - certainly none that has significantly interfered with us in any way. But there has been seriously heavy rains in areas we have visited or sailed through - either just before we arrived or just after we left. Most parts of Eastern Asia that featured in this cruise had very heavy Monsoonal rains just after we left them - and now, the low pressure system that caused our high winds in the Meditteranean has subsequently caused damage to the Middle East. We estimate that if our cruise through this area (Suez Canal/Red Sea) had been 24 - 48 hours later, we would have had a nasty experience - possibly even a delay in transiting the Canal.

But now, we are approaching Lisbon Harbour after two quite pleasant days in the Meditteranean. It was a "funny" kind of "pleasant" - because it has been windy, reasonably cold (around 10C), with a weak, watery and low sun over a sullenly quiet sea. But it signifies that we are now well and truly in Northern climes, getting close to our destination and the completion of one of the "must do's" of my life - a sea passage between Australia and the UK. We have been surprised at how little we have seen on this three day cruise through the Mediterranean. We understood that when crossing big oceans, all you see is the sea. But somehow, we thought that passage up the Red Sea and through the Med would be somehow different - it has been enjoyable, BUT we HAVE seen a lot of water. The only place we got close
to after Athens was the southern tip of Sicily - but we passed it in the night. However, yesterday we were very pleased to pass through the Strait of Gibralter during daylight hours - we got a very good view of "the Rock" and it's Harbour/surroundings on one side of the ship plus the Atlas Mountains and the port of Tangiers in Morocco on the other side. The title of today's blog comes from my feeling of sadness that we were just so close to what I think would be very interesting ports to visit - Gibralter and Tangiers - but not able to visit them. I was interested to see a very modern high speed catamaran Ferry plying between Tangiers and a Spanish town outside Gibralter. I can't really explain my surprise - but I was not expecting such a thing. I was probably more expecting ferries of the type we have seen in Vanuatu which travel to the outer islands there. It looks like another of my "perceptions" of this part of the world are incorrect again. We have been a bit nervous about what kind of weather/sea conditions we would encounter after entering the Atlantic Ocean - but so far so good!! We are also nervous about the weather conditions we are likely to encounter when we get to the UK - but as we approach Lisbon, it is 17C outside. We know it is only around 3C in London right now - so something has to give very soon for us. We just HAVE to drop from 17C to 3C sooner
or later - and it is going to be a sudden shock.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


In Piraeus, I was very briefly able to have a look at the Cruise Critic and Oz Cruiseclub Forums on the Internet. This was the first time that I could do this since we left Brisbane. I noted that one Forum contributor had asked for some more information about this ship Oriana- so after five weeks onboard and only one more to go before we arrive in Southampton, UK - perhaps now is the time for that. I have been reluctant to say too much about the ship for a number of  reasons. Firstly, what we think about it will not necessarily be what others think. Ships are referred to as "she/her" - and men will understand that when it comes to women, what one man considers to be admirable and desirable may be a turn-off to another. Secondly, the ship is an entity that is made up of more than just the nuts and bolts making the ship. The ship's staff are an extremely important contributor to passenger's perceptions of satisfaction - and these important people change all the time -in the case of this World cruise, even in mid-cruise. Thirdly, a passenger's thoughts about a particular ship, or even a particular cruise, are largely determined by what their expectations are before they start out and also by what they are prepared to accept. Christine and I are generally fairly easily pleased and we do not have high expectations because we understand that this is always the path to disappointment. We are also realists and know that  things go wrong - and the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

THE SHIP -- This is the fourth cruiseship we have travelled on and we have liked all of them. Of course, they all have their good and bad points. We cannot find many bad points about this ship (only one). The VERY good points are the big wide Promenade Deck (and it's good number of deckchairs and tables - as opposed to sunbeds, which we don't like), the large Cinema, the Theatre (for shows and other entertainment. It is
a theatre only - not a theatre crossed with a cocktail lounge which I think doesn't work very well in either direction), the Pacific Lounge (Cocktail lounge), Crow's Nest, Oriana Rhodes restaurant and tiered stern. The one BAD thing this ship has is VIBRATION in the rear of the ship - more specifically that felt inside the Oriental Restaurant. I would strongly recommend to all intending future passengers that they attempt to get a table in the Peninsula Restaurant.

THE FOOD -- We have enjoyed the food onboard, especially that served in the the main dining rooms and in Al Fresco. We have not been as enthusiastic about the food in the Buffet (Conservatory). I will admit that I am probably more critical about this than is Christine and, as a more general rule, I am not very fond of any buffet dining in any ship. I do like the atmosphere in the main dining rooms - although I can see that for some, the need to dress each night for a long cruise becomes a chore. This ship does have a LOT of Formal nights - and I found them to be unsuitable in Tropical areas. There are parts of the ship where the airconditioning does not cope very well in hot humid conditions (our cabin was one of them) - now that we are in cooler northern waters, I don't mind getting into a Penguin suit at all.

DRINKS -- If you are a drinker, you will like this ship (especially if you are an Aussie and have cruised on Aussie P&O ships). 500 ml bottles of full strength British Ale (Old Speckled Hen, Marstons Pedigree, Green King IPA, Spitfire - my favourite for this cruise) sell for around 2.70 UKP (around $4.85). This compares VERY well against the $5.50 we are charged for 375 mil cans of half strength Aussie lager (which is horrible stuff anyway). 330ml bottles of European lagers (like Stella Artois) are also sold for around the same price as the Brit Ales - although you can also get 600ml pints of Stella on tap for that price. It was so popular that they ran out a couple of weeks ago , and I understand got some more kegs of it from Aurora when we were both docked in Piraeus..There are two cocktails which are sold as "Cocktail of the day" (they change every day) for around 2.80 UKP (around $4.90). I think that Aussie cocktail drinkers would like this price. They also sell litre bottles of spirits that you can take to your cabin for consumption there - I bought a bottle of Gin for $7.50 ($13.50AUD) and a bottle of 5 year old Portuguese Vintage Port for 10.50 KP($20). Wine onboard Oriana varies widely in price from cheaper stuff to very expensive - but there is a very big selection of International wines (including Aussie), so any wine lover with a suitable budget would enjoy the selection. "Happy two hours" are from 2PM to 4PM in three of the bars onboard. The Brits don't do Happy Hour like Aussie establishments do (where everything is half price) - they only sell pints of Ale and Lager during Happy Hour (plus the promotional Cocktails of the Day), but these beers are only 1.30 UKP ($2) - which is VERY CHEAP!!! Only problem is that the Ale is Boddington's - which I am not all that keen on - but at $2 a pint, what do you think I have mostly been drinking????? Every now and then, I lash out on a hoppy Shepherd Neame Spitfire.

WOULD WE CRUISE ON ORIANA AGAIN ? -- Yes and no. YES, because there is absolutely no reason for us not to and we would recommend it to anyone wanting to experience a BRITISH ship (note that the word British has been accentuated!). NO - because this World of ours offers us so many wonderful ships and other things to experience, and at my age I can no longer afford (timewise) to do the same thing twice.

Force 11 gale from Piraeus

Before we sailed from Piraeus, our Captain told us of an impending northerly gale - which would make life a bit uncomfortable for us from about 2AM onwards for around 12 hours. We had been expecting something like this before we sailed - so for it to delay it's onset until after we had had dinner, gone to a show and retired to our beds was very considerate. We felt it's strength during the night - but when daylight broke and we looked out of our window and turned the TV on to the "information Channel" - we were VERY surprised to see the windstrength listed as Force 11 and the height of the waves!!! They were quite closely spaced and did not have any underlying long Ocean swells accompanying them as you get in the larger oceans. We basically kept to our beds until lunch time - when we crept upstairs, had something very light and returned to the cabin.

We are approaching the island of Sicily - which will shelter us tonight and the wind has already fallen to "only" Force 9. Christine - who has always claimed to be a poor sailor- has done remarkably well and not
been sick. (Nor have I). We really haven't been able to get much in the way of "sea legs" on this cruise - as it has been very calm for most of the trip - only the one day between Manilla and Hong Kong, and today
have the seas been rough.

Piraeus (Port for Athens)

We had an enjoyable visit to Athens yesterday - although it is difficult to make comments on the visit as it is all over so quickly. Certainly, we could have spent a MUCH longer time in the old part of the city (mainly for the restaurant/taverna dining/drinking and shopping opportunities) and I am intrigued by the possibilities offered by the port of Piraeus with it's dozens of Greek ferries plying their way to the hundreds of Greek Islands.

We were on the upper deck well before Dawn to see the entry of the ship into the Harbour. It has a very narrow entrance and it was fascinating to witness the skill of the Captain and his crew in berthing the ship in such confined waters. Before we went ashore it was announced that they were expecting a strong gale later in the day - and I became concerned that we would not be able to get back out of the Harbour (thus missing the next port of Lisbon). As it turned out, this didn't happen (the gale came later) - but as we sailed out, we could feel it coming. CNN news had told us that Athens temperature would drop from 20C to only 3C during the weather change - and it was only 10C when we left. There was a "GREAT BRITISH SAILAWAY" planned (as sister ship Aurora was also in port) - but this had to be cancelled.

I thought that Athens was very like a lot of other large European cities - somewhat crowded and ugly in the outlying areas with much high density living, but delightful in the old areas. Of course, the old areas are for the tourists, and there are too many of them/us as well!. Also like a lot of other European cities and the giant Asian cities we have visited on this cruise, there are simply too many people, too much motor traffic and too much pollution. I have come to more fully understand during this cruise that although we just have to visit the Capital cities of countries to truly know them - the beauty of these countries (which all of them have) lies in their rural areas. That is one reason
why we largely avoid all areas on the British AA Book of the Road that show as brown urban areas.

As I said before, I am intrigued by Piraeus. I have read that it doesn't have much going for it and is not very attractive - this is true, but the availability of all these Ferries makes it very attractive to me. Now that I have some concept of what it is all about and when we return home, I will have to research this more. Where do these Ferries go? Can you do daytrips on them? What is their cost? Can you tie in hotel accommodation short stays on the islands to their schedules? Etc,etc.

We had a very pleasant (but touristy) lunch in the Plaka. Ouzo, Greek wine, Metaxa Brandy - plus a beautiful piece of lamb - all accompanied by Greek music and dancing. It reminded us of a similar thing that we did in Rome once - a bit corny, but a lot of fun when in company with others. I think I might be feeling the first stirrings of a future Greek land based touring holiday coming on. Isn't it just a shame that we Aussies have to fly so far to get to these places.

You can view a Youtube video about our visit to Athens here

Saturday, December 11, 2010


Thanks to all those who have left comments on this Blog - sorry that I
have not had a chance to comment on the comments, as I have only been
posting to this Blog via email to Blogger.Com. I haven't been able to
actually download the Blog via the WWW - so I haven't been able to read
my own Blog up until now. We are now in Athens - and I have discovered
that I can get a WiFi connection here while sitting on the Promenade
Deck , so I have been able to read some of the comments. Please keep
them coming and I will be better able to communicate with you all when
we arrive in London.

It has turned quite cold this afternoon , after some abnormally warm
weather - we are apprensive about the seas that we will encounter in a
few days time when we leave the Mediteranean Sea. We are just about to
sail - so I will update the Blog tomorrow to cover our visit to Athens today

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Suez Canal

Boring??? WE DON'T THINK SO!!!

We have often heard people say that transiting the Suez canal is boring - we certainly cannot agree with that, and neither could the huge majority of the ship's passengers who spent a large amount of time on their feet on the various upper decks watching the scenery pass by. We found it very interesting - even fascinating - but exhausting. This was because we first went onto the rear upper decks at around 4.30AM - and finally collapsed into our "Happy hour" chairs on the Promenade deck at around 4PM, unable to stand up anymore.

Our perceptions of the Suez Canal were all wrong - we were expecting nothing but sand, sand all around. We were not expecting the fertile agriculture, industry and high density living on the left hand side of the Canal (the main State of Egypt side). It is almost impossible to show you enough photos to give you an idea of the changing scenery. We saw farmers, soldiers, fishermen - donkeys, goats,oxen - military bases by the dozen - orange and palm groves, - and, yes, of course, sand. The people along the Canal appeared to be very friendly - waving, whistling and calling to us - fishermen showing their fish to us. The soldiers on guard were probably the most excited to see us - it surprised us because we would have expected our passage to be quite commonplace to them - perhaps they were bored in their little lonely outposts. We saw a very large Army base with about 1000 men on Parade - along with dozens of Tanks, armoured vehicles,  rocket launchers.

All in all - we highly recommend the passage through the Suez Canal - remember, you have to be on a ship to do it, whereas you can go to Egypt to see it's ancient wonders anytime.

You can view a Youtube slideshow of pictures taken during our Suez canal transit here