We are cautious people here in this house of happiness. Well I am. The wife, on the other hand, likes nothing better than to regale me with the adventures of her youth – climbing Everest, digging around the pyramids of Egypt, trekking up the west coast of Australia, navigating the upper reaches of the Amazon (only one of these is true but there are no prizes for guessing which one).
On the other hand there is me. Steady. Sure. Not prone to impulsive actions. Age has mellowed my wanderlust (which only extended to the local pub when I was younger anyway). I have no real wish to mix with local cultures, explore strange, new worlds, to boldy go where no one has….sorry I’ve been watching too much Star Trek on Amazon Film Instant.
So we decided that we would check out cruising. Not on the local streets looking for homies to abuse, you understand. No, the water-based kind. Of course with typical practicality we didn’t just go jumping in at the deep end. No two month trip round the Cape of Good Hope for us.
Leonardo and Kate were looking forward to a beer
No no. We opted for a two night trip to Bruges. Going to Bruges from where we are would take about 3 hours by car on dry land. But dry it isn’t. There’s a big bit of water called the English Channel in the way.
We reckoned two nights on a cruise liner would enable us to weigh the pro’s and con’s, and we identified a lot of potential con’s before we booked:
- I thought it would be akin to a floating retirement home
- The wife was concerned that fellow passengers would bang about in the rooms
- I was wondering whether the food would be reasonable
- The wife was still worrying about the other passengers banging around in their rooms
- I, meanwhile, had moved on to the issue of on-board entertainment – would it be as dodgy as it is on those reality TV shows about cruise liner life?
- What about those passengers in their rooms? I was getting worried about that too now – paranoia is contagious.
- Tipping – I am not an ungenerous individual but I balk at giving someone a tip for serving a drink at the bar (ever been to America? You start tipping at border control)
- And what about Bruge? I mean it’s hailed as a World Heritage Site but then so is Aleppo in Syria, and I don’t fancy going there
Anyway we plumbed for a quick trip at Easter – leave on Friday, arrive on Saturday morning, leave on Saturday evening, back home Sunday. From our door to Bruge and back is 732 miles.
And so we set off for the Oriana – a somewhat venerable old dear (twenty years old) but a not insubstantial beast. Actually quite big (and believe me the more alcohol consumed the bigger it seemed to get).
Imagine if the ship sunk vertically – that’s a long way down…
We boarded, sorry embarked, in the afternoon and the experience was almost the same as boarding a flight at Gatwick. Almost, but not quite. For a start the staff were ‘mature’ (retired, they looked like they were doing it because they wanted to) and therefore they were pleasant! Yes, unlike airports, where you get treated like an amateur terrorist, here at Southampton port people were smiling!
We got a room with a balcony. Had to have a balcony because of my claustrophobia. Shame about the wife’s agoraphobia but something had to give. Nice enough room, bit dated and then there was the loo. Now I didn’t put that in my initial list of concerns about cruising but should have. To ‘save water’ (come on seriously we are in the English Channel people) they installed airline ‘vacuum’ toilets – you know the type ‘DO NOT REMAIN SEATED WHILE FLUSHING’.
Anyway we didn’t waste time and went for a nose about. Up on top a big crowd of people had swarmed around the (slightly worn looking) pool, in bikinis and trunks, with cocktails in hand, lying on sun loungers and getting their ear drums perforates by a lady bellowing out something that I couldn’t determine because she was distorting the amplifiers badly.
All this and it was at least 10 centigrade. I mean it was a bit chilly. Anyway we found a quiet spot at the back of the ship, so sorry I mean ‘aft’, and watched the harbour slip (very slowly) away..
A short interlude; we were instructed to attend the ‘mustering station’ where we were all reminded that the sea is very deep and very cold, that if there was a big loud siren noise we were all in big trouble and that we had to put on our life jackets and jump into the large orange boats liberally scattered along the side of the ship (the Titanic this was not).
That evening we were booked into the ‘Ocean Grill’, a restaurant to which Marco Pierre White had appended his name. It wasn’t clear what Marco had to do with the Ocean Grill, but nevertheless it was very good.
We started with an ‘amuse bouche’ of tomato soup.
Followed by Pea and Ham soup. They poured the soup onto a pile of peas and ham. Liked that.
The Mrs had a giant blini with salmon…
Then I had the T-bone with thrice-cooked chips…
…whilst the Mrs tried the risotto. We almost forgot we were on a ship, until we noticed this…
By this time the Chablis was gone. We shared the chocolate torte.
Then we went for a wander. Found this lot in one of the theatres.
‘The Beatles Experience’ – they were good although a bit miserable – they didn’t seem to think there were enough people in the theatre – but I didn’t heckle back ‘Because no one cares’.
Bruge. Well not Bruges but a container port called Zeebrugge.
Paradise it is not. Anyway we set off on a coach with Mary our guide explaining that we had to get back by 3.15 to the coach or we would be stuck there in Bruge. She was great.
It reminded me of somewhere like Oxford. Nice if you are passing through…
But we did see one of my favourite things – a levitating street statue (I like these people, making a living by being very still).
Bruges was okay, basically a place full of chocolate and beer. We opted for the beer.
That’s happiness, right there.
Anyway we got back to the ship and hit the buffet. Brilliant. I had chicken korma, beef wellington and a load of other stuff, all on the same plate. That Belgian beer has a lot to answer for.
Come evening the boat started moving and we set off on our epic return voyage to Southampton.
Come the early hours the wind picked up. It shot down the North Sea and hit the starboard and we found out why people don’t always want a balcony. A steady, and very loud, whistling started up as the air tried to find it’s way through the smallest gaps around the window frame. Annoying.
No matter. By the time we got to Southampton it was freezing. We did an amazing three point turn and backed into the dock. So would we do it again? Don’t know. Read about a cruise to the Canary Islands. A Force 10 storm rocked the ship for days on end. Once that ship docked some people got off and booked a flight home, saying they would never set foot on a cruise again.
It was fun. My recommendations – pick a modern ship (i.e. 10 years old or less), go somewhere warm, check the blogs for reviews so you can get an idea of what to expect and pack a black tie – you will need it!