Bruges, Boats and Beer

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.

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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:

  1. I thought it would be akin to a floating retirement home
  2. The wife was concerned that fellow passengers would bang about in the rooms
  3. I was wondering whether the food would be reasonable
  4. The wife was still worrying about the other passengers banging around in their rooms
  5. 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?
  6. What about those passengers in their rooms? I was getting worried about that too now – paranoia is contagious.
  7. 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)
  8. 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

Oriana_(4)

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.

Day 1

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).

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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!

Tick!

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’.

Untick!

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..

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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.

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Followed by Pea and Ham soup. They poured the soup onto a pile of peas and ham. Liked that.

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The Mrs had a giant blini with salmon…

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Then I had the T-bone with thrice-cooked chips…

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…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.

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Then we went for a wander. Found this lot in one of the theatres.

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‘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’.

Day 2

Bruge. Well not Bruges but a container port called Zeebrugge.

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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.

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It reminded me of somewhere like Oxford. Nice if you are passing through…

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But we did see one of my favourite things – a levitating street statue (I like these people, making a living by being very still).

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Bruges was okay, basically a place full of chocolate and beer. We opted for the beer.

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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.

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Come evening the boat started moving and we set off on our epic return voyage to Southampton.

Day 3

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!

19 thoughts on “Bruges, Boats and Beer

  1. I’m a bit behind on my blog reading!! I love your honesty about this. My husband and I have thought about a cruise but I’ve been hesitant as I thought for sure I’d constantly think everything is moving and it would for sure freak me out. I like boats and all but not living on a boat for days on end.
    “Is it shaking or is it just me?” hahaha…no, I think it was the wine 🙂

  2. Excellent recap of your trip. That was a great idea to try it on a small journey before making a bigger commitment. I think people are either cruise people or not cruise people. Personally I’d rather go someplace interesting and see the local sites and visit the restaurants. We took a 10 day cruise up to Alaska and frankly I wasn’t all that impressed. Yes, the food was very good but unfortunately I’m not a fan at all of these assigned tables…and you are stuck with the same people every night. We ended up with the grandparents who took their sulky grandson and his creepy friend who just barely knew how to use a fork and knife. We ended up skipping the sit down dinners and finding buffets just to avoid them. A friend of mine just got back from basically the same cruise and the advertising for it says something about “the people you meet can be friends for life”. Her husband’s comment to that was “do NOT talk to anyone!”

    • Yes we avoided the sit-round-the-table-with-people-you-don’t-know restaurants. We nearly went to one for breakfast but I had a stinking hangover and when the waiter directed us to a table with other people on it i just turned round and said i wanted our own table. Selfish and rude but no way was `I making small talk!

      • I can tell you I wasn’t pleased with our assigned table mates even if I’d been drunk, never mind hung over. Unfortunately a private table wasn’t an option. And now, just after saying I’m not a cruise person, my husband tells me that when he retires this fall that he thinks it might be fun to do some of these European river cruises. Have you heard anything about them? I guess there’s lots of options like stopping at ports in France or other destinations. I’m kind of hesitant since it’s still a cruise.

    • You know thats what we thought – but there was a surprising mix – loads of hen parties, even a couple of stag parties. Also the usual assortment of middle age men with very young women. always good for a laugh.

  3. We ‘did’ a cruise once about 10 years ago when my wife was still a journalist. It was a review trip around the Med for (near enough) free so no complaints but not sure I’d do it again. We went from Tunisia to Rome in bad weather which didn’t help though. Saying that the food wasn’t anything like as good as that looked so maybe I should reconsider…..

    • Yes I was suprised by the food – in fact the buffet was the best food. I can imagine what it would be like in bad weather – it would be a whole different proposition…

  4. I’ve always been a bit apprehensive about cruises. Once you’re on board, you can’t get off, can you. However, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about yours and the food looked delicious. Bruges looks very pretty. My youngest son spent his honeymoon on a cruise and he and his wife really enjoyed the experience – the cruise and the honeymoon, I expect!

  5. I’ve always looked upon cruise ships as buckets of vomit and faeces which make it easier to spread influenza amongst old people.
    I didn’t see any thrice cooked chips with that steak unless it was that onion ring like thing.
    Please tell the wife, she’s a very attractive woman too 😉

    • It was weird – everywhere they had hand gel dispensers and they chased you around with the stuff if you didnt use it – felt a bit like a medical facility sometimes.

      And thanks, she was a good catch! The wife wont appreciate that comment but it’s tru nonetheless!!

  6. I was worried when I saw the image of you in life vests. But then on reading more, I thought that the picture might be capturing your effort at an early disembarkation (Is that the right word?) Still sounds like you had a great time.

    • that is the right word and we waited for ages to find out what we were supposed to be doing standing in the big room with our life vests on – we found out it was so we could be told how to put our life vests on but everyone had already worked it out so it seemed a bit pointless…

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