Cruise Day 12 (17th April): Muscat (Oman)

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Morning Reader, this is probably the final Blog of the holiday as we fly home Thursday.

Today, we’re on a full-day Tour today entitled: Nakhl & Hot Springs.

We’re covering :-

  • Nakhl town
  • Thowarah Hot Springs
  • Nakhl Fort
  • Photo opportunity at the Grand Mosque

Muscat is the capital city of (the Sultanate of) Oman and the seat of Government. It’s just ‘round the corner’ from Dubai, but unknown to some, is a country in its own right. Its wealth comes from petroleum exports, port management and fishing. Compared to our previous port, Cochin in India, where all the locals there appear to worship Trashma, the Hindu goddess of litter, this place is incredibly clean and well ordered. It’s as though someone Dysons the entire country every morning and is a bit OCD about it. You cannot help but be impressed from the moment you arrive, by the well watered plants, precision cut grass verges and manicured roundabouts.

Skip the next two paragraphs if you know your ‘Oman history’…

During the last 40 years, the ruling and highly respected  Sultan has ordered changes that have transformed the country almost beyond recognition – and in a good way! There has also been an explosion in road-building and tourism-related industries. As our Guide, Abdullah told us:- “Oman’s development has been split into two phases – pre-1970 and post-1970”.

The new Sultan is the son of the previous Sultan, and in a bloodless coup, replaced him in 1970, in order to move the country forward. So, in the years following, that’s when the massive changes have taken place. In less than 50 years, Oman has changed from a third-world country to one boasting, schools, universities, almost completely free state education, nearly zero crime-rate, free healthcare, and a great record of rights for women.

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All Aboard…

The result? is that the country now looks very, very, different to when we first came here just 10 years ago – and even back in 2013, when we last stayed, the road network has improved yet again. There are now more western influences in terms of retail outlets (Big Mac anyone?) but it’s all been done very tastefully and they don’t dominate the shopping spaces. As a result, Oman still has a cosy feel to it – and maybe unusually for its geographical location, very safe. It’s another country that’s scrupulously clean and where everyone smiles! Yes, there is a genuine hospitable attitude from all the locals we met today, and you are made to feel very welcome.

For me it’s perhaps what Dubai may have looked like if high-rises and skyscrapers had been banned – and as a result, it all looks looks very natural and unspoilt. In Oman, the height of all buildings is strictly controlled, and even the satellite dishes have to be coloured to blend in.

The weather today is typical for this area – a sweltering 35 degrees – they’re just coming into their Summer. Unlike previous Tours, though, this one was just plain hot – with nowhere near the humidity. So today we knew that we could look forward to hot crispy underpants instead of India’s uber-damp attire.


Our first stop was Nakhl Fort. Built in the 6th century, but looking very good for its age, this was a super-solid construction. Clearly no expense had been spared in making the walls as thick as possible, and as we sat down in one of the once oft-used ‘village meeting rooms’, we felt very safe and secure from everything outside – including the weather! Sooo cool!

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The Meeting Room

After our briefing, it was back outside to wander round the various remains of the Fort. There was plenty to see, and the view from the top (as you’d expect) was amazing.


Solid as a Rock!

Back to the Coach and onto our next stop – Thowarah Hot Springs.


Abdullah
explained that these were less’ Spring’ like and more water running down from the mountains. On closer examination, we noticed that the water was crystal-clear and there were hundreds of tiny fish swimming about. It was part of the ‘canal system’ out here (yes, really!) that is used for irrigation.

Fish Supper Slipper
The fish served a purpose (and I don’t mean lunch), as Abdullah encouraged us to remove our shoes and socks and experience the fish nibbling at our dead skin – all for free – and at a water-temperature approaching 35 degrees! The temptation was too much for the many of the super-oldies in the party, but as wonderful as it sounded, this turned into a safety nightmare! The sight of a mass of wrinklies attempting en-masse to remove their shoes and socks and then safely wade into the water turned out to be an accident waiting to happen – and we didn’t have to wait long before one of our party went a*** over elbow attempting an elegant entry into the soothing waters.

Bizarrely, in a momentary regression to his teenage years, the first thing he checked after re-composing himself was the state of his mobile-phone – temporarily forgetting any bruising of his ego and his ruined clothing!

As our party (some limping) headed back to the Coach, next stop was far less dangerous! Lunch!


Lunch and Free WiFi

After our slightly disappointing affair during the Cochin Tour, we weren’t sure what to expect for our Cunard ‘Lunch’ this time around. As things turned out, it was a massive improvement! No cheese biscuits and slices of cake, instead, a full salad course buffet-style followed by a hot course, followed by some super-yummy desserts – and plenty of free soft drinks, tea and coffee. I was too busy eating, to get any photographs, but it was very good indeed!

It couldn’t get any better… but then it did! FREE WiFi. Cue (again!) oldies turning into teenagers, abandoning their conversation skills and diving into their phones/tablets – and in one case a laptop (no, not me!, I was still tackling the Chocolate Mousse!!)
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We had a bit of time to wander round the resort, but even though it was quite stuffy where we had lunch, it was even hotter outside, so we found an area between the two with a gentle breeze and waited for our Coach to return.

With our food and technology needs satisfied, it was back on-board where Abdullah took some time to explain how to tie a turban, Oman-ey style. As a result, I think I’ll stick to bow-ties!!

Next on our itinerary was The Grande Mosque – and it certainly lived up to its title. Even though we’d seen it before last time we were here, we were still blown away by how much of an impact it has when your first see it


NOT the Leaning Tower, more like a leaning Photographer


The Grand Mosque

After about 30 minutes looking round the outside (it was closed, by the time we got there), it was back on the Coach. We were doing well for time so Abdullah suggested an extra stop – The Sultan’s Palace – about 20 minutes away, but in the direction of our Ship.


The Sultan’s Palace

This was another stunning property, immaculate in every sense! Unfortunately, as members of the public, we weren’t allowed in, but it still had the ‘Wow’ factor.

Fifteen minutes later, we were parking opposite the Ship and saying goodbye to Abdullah. We’ve seen quite a few Tour Guides on this Cruise, and he had definitely been the best. He got the balance right between talking and keeping quiet, and gave us just enough information to help us make sense of the sights we were visiting. It helped too, that he had a really good command of English (English is taught in schools out here from the age of 6) and a very good sense of humour.

Tomorrow, it’s our final day on the Cruise as we head for Dubai.


So, here we are at the end of my Blogs for this holiday. Thanks for reading them! It seems that just over 50 of you have been looking at them on a daily basis, peaking at just under an incredible 100 for some of our trips. So, a big thanks from me, and the kind words you’ve said about them. There’s a small chance that there will be an extra blog tomorrow evening as we’ve just heard about a truly unique photo opportunity taking place in Dubai tomorrow afternoon.!If the technology allows it, I’ll post something before we fly back.


Cruise Day 10 & 11 (15th and 16th April): Heading for Muscat (Oman)

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Dear Reader, it’s another two days at sea for us, this time heading for Muscat in Oman. The clocks went back half-an-hour last night, so, as the end of our holiday approaches, we’re getting closer to UK time.



And it’s been another busy period as over the past two days, we’ve crammed in…

Sunday

Margaret Gilmore’s live Q & A session – ‘Fighting Modern Terrorism’. Brilliant!

Paul Garthwaite playing his 22 string guitar (yes, 22 strings! – a mix of mandolin, lute, harp and classical guitar). Unique sound!

A visit to the Ship’s Planetarium for The Asteroid Show. Amazing!

Radio 4 Podcast: The Media Show – Murdoch vs Facebook & Google. An interesting debate!

The former American Ambassador, Chase Untermeyer’s second of three presentations – The Moslem World, Past & Present. Too hurried!

The Cocktail Party for ‘Gold Members’ and other seasoned-cruisers who boarded at Singapore/Hong-Kong. Amazingly, they announced that one couple were celebrating their 16th (16th!!!!) consecutive (consecutive!!!!) World Cruise. The event was all a bit OTT for us, so we went to the Bar!

Another tough day! Oh, the pressure!


Monday

Three laps round the deck is a mile – we did six laps!!

10am: A simulated Pirate Attack was initiated. In short, whilst the Crew fought off a potential threat from Captain Pugwash using fire-hoses and some very advanced technology, we were all told to head for our Staterooms and await further instructions. An hour later, we were given the ‘all clear’. All exercised with calmness and precision!

Ship’s Theatre next, where we listened to Colonel Steve Francis RM (QM2’s Royal Naval Liaison Officer) on the regional piracy threat and the measures in place keep us safe on-board. Fascinating stuff!

Another three laps round the deck!

More Radio 4 Podcasts: The Feedback Show and More or Less: Behind the Stats

Back to Illuminations to hear Former American Ambassador, Chase Untermeyer’s last of his three presentations – Sacred Sands. A fascinating insight into recent Arabic history

Our last activity of the day was the Masked Ball in the Queen’s Room



The clocks go back another hour tonight. We’re now just three hours behind the UK.

It’s tough, and I know you feel sorry for how busy we’ve been!

Back to a more detailed Blog tomorrow, after we’ve been to Muscat!

Nighty-night!

Cruise Day 9 (14th April): Cochin (India)

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A lazy start for our Tours so far – a relatively lethargic 9.30 today!

Here we go then – our first visit to India in the shape of a six-hour combined Coach & Boat tour entitled: The Best of Cochin. Cochin is in the Indian state of Kerala, located on the west coast of India. These days, it’s often called ‘Kochi’.

Our trip includes:-

  • Fort Cochin
  • Indo-Portuguese museum
  • Jew Town
  • St Francis Church
  • The Old Dutch Palace

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The (no) Jersey Boys

We assembled in the Theatre and were soon heading for our Tour Bus for the day – almost half-an-hour ahead of schedule! A group of local musicians welcomed us all dock-side, as the gazillions of Coaches swallowed up not only guests from our Ship, but our next-door neighbour Celebrity Constellation (that seems to be following us on this Cruise!).


And contrary to previous advice, our transport DID have suspension, and more importantly, it DID have air-conditioning. Sabu introduced himself (he reminded it’s the same name as in ‘The Jungle Book’) as our Guide for the six-hour Tour, and we were soon on the road to our first stop. I use the word ’road’ in a very general sense, as the condition is, as you might expect, pretty poor out here.

A quick word here also about drivers in India. In short, suicidal! They might drive on the same side of the road as us in the UK, but our brief visit demonstrated that the left-hand-side is only the start point! If there’s any congestion, they simply swap to the other side of the road, and worry at the last minute if there happens to be any oncoming traffic. The Tuk-Tuks seem to follow a set of road-laws all to themselves, where they’ll ‘find’ any possible gap in the traffic and make it their own. They overtake on blind-bends, undertake at every opportunity, and regularly provide the ‘meat in the sandwich’ when their are two vehicles opposite each other. It makes the Malaysians (and we thought they were scary) look like a Sunday drive with Aunt Mildred!


A typical kamikaze Tuk-tuk

Back to the tour: Weather was as-per-normal – hot! (28C at 8.45am) but luckily, last night’s storm here took some of the ‘punch’ out of the humidity – at least initially!

Poor Sabu got off to an unfortunate start, as despite his best intentions (and a bit of makeshift electrical repairs by our Driver) his microphone wasn’t working. Sabu therefore spent the rest of the Tour competing with the over-active AC unit and the general engine noise!

In just 10 minutes, we were back off the Coach and queuing for our Boat. Cunard’s legendary pursuit of passenger safety took a bit of a back-seat as our Lifejacket ‘training’ lasted all of 10 seconds – and finished with the advice that if we needed one, we should ask!
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Sabu in full-flow
A very tranquil 75-minute boat-trip followed, and with a regular, welcoming breeze wafting across the Boat, this was in stark contrast to what we were all expecting – our anti-perspirants were happy NOT doing any work! This was a quiet and relaxing experience, interrupted only by the occasional wave from a fishing-boat owner and passing passenger boats boasting: ‘hello-we’re-having-a-party-on-board-and-we’re-going-to-make-a-lot-of-noise-about-it’. A lot of people may be poor out here, but from what we’ve seen already, they appear to enjoy life.


Whilst enjoying our Boat-trip, we learned from Sabu that India is changing, especially in this local area, where foreign investment has allowed significant building of hotels and office-space – although it all looked somehow strange, nestled up against much older buildings.

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Next stop, just over an hour later, meant saying goodbye to our breezy-boat, and ‘hello’ to the streets of Cochin. By now, the humidity was building – and we were all feeling it. It was clear that we had arrived in Cochin during their 365 day-long ‘Festival of Litter’ – I kid you not, the amount of rubbish just lying on the streets was disturbing. Clearly there is a cultural problem and logistical issue with what you do with everyday waste, everything from building materials, plastic bottles, old shoes, bald tyres, old tree branches and half-completed motor-bikes etc.  – and it was something that for the rest of the day became very noticeable as we wandered round. The day before we arrived, the city had been hit by a mini-cyclone storm, and in addition to the litter problem, there were loads of trees down, with branches in roads and mess from falling debris. The locals seem to have worked out a great strategy for dealing with the mess – just drive over it… or around it… or take it home! It was a sort of minefield of ‘tree’ roundabouts that no-one seemed too worried about clearing up.

Our first official stop was The Dutch Palaceand it looked as if the whole of India was here too!


By now, the humidity was just impossible (and it was only 11am!), and it was no surprise that once inside, the most popular exhibits tended to be the ones nearest the electric fans! Regretfully, there was a massive restriction on what visitors were allowed to photograph, but whilst most of the many ancient wall painted frescos were off-limits, the teak ceilings were enjoying a lot of popularity with the camera and smartphone fraternity.

 
Teak Ceilings

Some of the ancient frescos were on the ‘OK list’ though…

Ancient Frescos

As beautiful as it all was, there was no doubt, that even though it was hot and humid outside, it was hottER and MORE humid inside – and we couldn’t wait to get out! A shame, as there was plenty to see here.

Next stop was the short walk into Jew-town – and the Synagogue (unfortunately closed when we got there at midday). It was also our first introduction to the local Merchants doing what they do best – attempting to sell us their wares. If you’re uncomfortable with this, then come prepared! Either buy some of their exquisite tat, or exercise your assertiveness skills at the earliest opportunity – they tend to (mostly) take the hint – they can be very persistent and collectively possess a physic-like ability to let each other know who the ‘soft-targets’ are. I know it’s all part of the culture here in India, but today, it was just bordering on getting annoying – someone needs to tell the guys selling ‘lucky elephants’ that clearly, they’re not bringing their distributors much, err, luck! (yes, one grumpy over-heated tourist today!)


The Synagogue in Jew Town

In their efforts to encourage us poor saps potential customers, most of the local shop-keepers had learned a new phrase: ‘hassle-free’ – a bit of a giggle the first time we heard it: ‘You shop my store – totally hassle-free Sir’,  but by the time we’d run the gauntlet of another 20-or-so Traders, it was all getting a bit much.


Hassle-free Shopping!

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Our First Museum

After a quick trip back the Coach, we were soon on our way, competing with the rest of the Coaches all heading to the same place – The Indo-Portuguese Museum. We arrived just after 12.30, and by some miracle seemed to have beaten all the other Coaches! Given that there is almost 92 Rupees to the pound, the entry fee of just 5 Rupees was a steal – pity then that the ‘no photographs inside’ rule applied here too! Although there wasn’t much to see here, just Catholic bits-and-pieces from when the Portuguese were in town, it was good to look round – especially outside, where evidence of its former glory – as the Bishop’s Place – became obvious.


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The ex-Bishop’s Palace

Our next stop was the St Francis Church, the oldest Christian Church in India (1650ish?)
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..and for us, was probably the highlight of the day. It was in great condition and contained the tomb of Vasco Da Gama, the great Portuguese explorer (although his earthly remains had been moved to Lisbon some years later) We were reminded to remove our shoes (which tends to be a tradition out here for ANY Church) and surprisingly, photographs WERE allowed! Instead of the aroma of incense however, we had fragrant wafts of sweaty feet…
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Note the large punkers (fans)


Yes, that was impressive and we still seemed to be slightly ahead of the other Coach parties.

It was back to our Coach, where we met up with our retail-stalkers local merchants once again, where silk scarves, coloured beaded necklaces and ballpoint pens had now become today’s BOGOFs’. We took sanctuary in our Coach whilst we looked on as the other Coaches and their parties ‘walked in our shoes’ (without the shoes!)

Then it was a quick walk along the Beach to marvel at the Chinese Fishing-nets in action… except the fisherman were all away having lunch!

…before our promised lunch stop at a local private hotel…

It was probably the poshest place we’d seen all day. A warm welcome was offered as we arrived and we were sown inside to where biscuits, cake, chilled water and Pepsi were freely available. As an extra bonus, we were all introduced to the 90-year-old owner of the establishment, who took a bow, and was introduced personally to us all!
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Amazingly, we were slightly ahead of schedule (and still ahead of the other Coaches) so Sabu added in a couple of extra stops:-

  • A visit to a group of women doing laundry by the sea
  • A short stop at a local Department Store

In truth, by then, most of our Group (including us) were so exhausted from the heat & humidity that we stayed on-board in the comfort of the Coach’s air-conditioning! We’re not sure what happened to the Fort Cochin part of the Tour, but we were past caring at this stage! By the time we finished, the temperature was up to a sock-moistening 34C! Just too hot and humid for these two Brits!
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Then it was back to where we started (although our Driver took an interesting wrong turn and arrived at the wrong entrance to the Port). He quickly remedied his error by conducting an impossible three-point-turn in a road that was only wide-enough for a skate-board and then accelerating off in pursuit of another Coach (who DID know the way).

We arrived back on-board, pleased to be back in air-conditioned comfort – and headed straight for King’s Court for a top-up nibble!

There we reflected on our first taste of India! In no particular order:-

Lovely people; lots of smiley, cheerful faces; plenty of tourist tat to fill your homes; smelly streets; appalling local driving; over-assertive street-traders; greater allowance for photographs needed; amazingly skilled coach-drivers; more free wi-fi in public spaces and perhaps smaller tour groups.

Would we come back? Oh yes!
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We’re at sea again tomorrow for two days heading for Muscat (Oman). See you in the Bar!

Cruise Day 8 (13th April): At Sea

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Another day at sea today…

All at Sea

Things to do/see…

  • Go to Part 3 (the final part) of Margaret Gilmore’s very interesting trilogy of presentations about tackling modern terrorism
  • Queue on-board to have our Indian Visas stamped. From the ‘off’ it was total chaos with queues as far as the eye could see – all descending on the makeshift area in the Britannia Restaurant. We abandoned our allocated slot and came back in the afternoon, where we only queued for 30 minutes – as a result, it hasn’t presented Cunard in their best light, but in an effort to ‘calm the natives’, the Hotel manager took to the tannoy and used irony to make us feel better! He reminded us that it was us Brits that it was the Brits who taught the Indians about administration! Oh, how we laughed!
    Sad smile
  • Maybe go and see Star Wars – The Last Jedi in 3D at the Ship’s Cinema
  • Paint!
  • Listen to the Android Central Podcast (No. 373): What’s coming in Android P
  • Finish the day at the Ship’s Theatre and see The Opera Boys. Apparently, these two tenors are worth more than four fivers (not sure that works in print!) Arf-arf!
    Open-mouthed smile

Looking ahead to tomorrow, We’re docking in India for one day, where we’ve then got a six-hour Tour: The Best of Kochin

First, the good news: It’s a late start for our Tour – a relatively ‘lazy’ 9.30. Now the bad news: we’ve been reminded that none of the Coaches nor Boats have air-conditioning and are generally prone to breaking-down. Even the best Coaches have very poor (if any) suspension!
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I don’t think I’ll bother to ask for the wi-fi password!

See you on the other side!
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Cruise Day 7 (12th April): Colombo (Sri Lanka)

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We’ve not been to Sri Lanka before and so this was going to be a real treat. We’re going ashore at Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, leading (and very modern-looking) Port and commercial capital – home to some 750 000 locals. A hosted half-day walking tour is probably a good introduction to this country, just 15 minutes from where QM2 anchored.

We’re heading for Old Colombo, visiting the Pettah District, including Khan Clock Tower, Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque and the Old Dutch Hospital complex – it’s a busy one, with lots to see!
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The weather forecast suggests it’s going to be super-hot and super-sticky, so it was probably a good job we chose the morning walk! There’s one planned for 2.30 this afternoon – we don’t envy their sweat-glands!!

Again, it was an early start – we had breakfast by the unholy time of 6.30am and had to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready for our Tour badges by 7.15am

As usual, we met at The Golden Lion Pub – and in an exciting change to previous events, we WEREN’T on Tour 8, instead Tour 6 – Oooh, the variety! It was a popular Tour (the Pub was packed), but in typical Cunard efficiency, we were soon heading for our Coach.

Sri (now that’s a name that’s going to be easy to remember) introduced himself as our Guide for the morning, and we were quickly on our way. As a bonus, we all had personal receivers and headphones so that we could hear Sri even if he was a distance away. As we were to find out later, this part of Colombo is a busy, buzzing town – and as such, the headphones turned out to be essential!

First stop was…



The Town Hall

Now preserved solely for the benefit of tourism, it gave us an early indication of how things used to be back in 1853 during the formative years of Ceylon. After a thorough look round, we headed outside and into the ‘Ye Olde Petty Court’ area – again, now just preserved for us Tourists.


“Here comes the Judge…”

Next stop was the main Fruit & Veg Wholesale Market, which supplies every corner of the island – and it was just how you’d imagine it to be – thriving, noisy and rather smelly! With locals having been setting-up for the day from 4am, our visit at 8am was definitely halfway through their dawn shift.
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Heaps of activity everywhere, either by merchandising their enormous mangoes (cheapest to the left, as per JS standards), chopping off the leafy bits of cauliflowers with evil looking machetes, or lighting battalions of incense sticks to dull the aroma of the piles of air dried pongy fish. Diminutive skinny porters carrying impossible loads on their backs but had probably never heard (not cared) about RSI! This was a full-frontal assault on all your senses – in a good way! You name it, they had it! – somewhere! We even had the obligatory mangy-dog weeing on the piles of rubbish…




The Fruit & Veg Market

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‘Kid Creole’

Time to stop for a drink – but not what were expecting! No Diet Cokes here, we were going ‘totally authentic’ as Sri arranged for us to try a coconut each – more specifically, its ‘milk’. Bit of an acquired taste, but given the temperature and the humidity, we acquired it pretty quickly!
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Ten-minutes later, we were all refreshed, but the temperature was still rising! We headed next to a couple of religiously significant buildings.


The Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque

The Mosque had an Indian design influence and its contrasting brickwork made it stand out a mile. On Fridays, it can hold 16,000 Moslem worshippers at the main prayers, so it’s a pretty enormous complex.


The Hindu Temple

Literally, just down the road, was the Hindu Temple – just as striking visually, but this was far more ornate. On a cooler day, we might have stopped to count the number of figures and animals, but our anti-perspirants were about to surrender! We were now in moist-undergarments territory…


The Grand Oriental Hotel

Next on our itinerary was a visit to what turned out to be a location with a very sad story – The Grand Oriental Hotel. In its day, this had been the ‘go-to’ accommodation in the town, posh enough for the Hotel Manager to vet all bookings to ensure that those two French oiks: Les Riff and Les Raff did not get past its doors. However, like many other older buildings in this busy place, it had seen better days. And, although it was still open to guests, it was clearly struggling with its dated interior, lack of air-conditioning, and most importantly, the crucial need for nothing less than a major makeover.

In fact, the building interior looked as if if it had been frozen in time (about 1963!) – so did the fully uniformed Doorman, who saluted me on the way out! Ah bless!

Ann reported that it was the only Ladies Loo she’s been in, where the hot-air hand dryer was cooler than the temperature in the loo itself!
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We were shown upstairs to the breakfast room, where we cooled-down and made the most of the free wi-fi and drinks on offer. Ann captured some good shots towards where the QM2 had docked.
 
 
With our whistles-whetted once more, we dropped in next door to a local St Peter’s Church, which was originally built by the Dutch. Lovely and cool inside so we all lingered, some out of religious conviction, but most for the cool air and the shade…


St Peter’s Church

Sri
next took us to a series of significant buildings…

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The Clock Tower with a built-in Lighthouse!

Whiteaways Building


Lloyd’s Building

What we were starting to learn about Colombo in general though, was even sadder – it seems to have been commercially abused for most of its existence. First the Portuguese in 1505, who plundered it, and then by the 1660s, the Dutch, who filled the place with canals Then along came us Brits in 1796! In recent years – the 80s – it even suffered at the hands of terrorism (I’d forgotten this part!) between the Tamils and the Sinhalas.

In short, a lorry packed full of explosives was driven by a suicide bomber into the town’s major Bank. Over 500 deaths and more than 1,000 injured, the impact on the city’s businesses was devastating. Dozens closed, and with the new tighter security cordon, those situated in the Old Fort area, simply dried up or gave up and moved out. The city became a ghost-town with no reason for anyone to go there. Happily, with tourism and businesses returning, it’s pulled itself up, but it’s been scarred for life.

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We then trotted off to the ‘Harrods’ of Colombo, called ‘Cargills’, built in 1864 and complete with original features and a duty free bargain booze department. More like a Sainsbury back in the 60s, this even had pneumatic tubes and customer’s cash transactions or for moving paperwork around the building.

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The Steuart Hotel

In complete contrast to The Grand Oriental earlier, this was a classy and modern hotel. Founded by proud Scot, George Steuart  (spell-checker be damned), it was everything a modern hotel should look like built on the site of the Sri Lanka’s oldest business meeting house.  We could see ourselves staying here next time round!

Our final stop was at the Old Dutch Hospital Complex. Now converted to fashionable cafés and eateries, as the name suggests, it was once run by the Dutch (in the 17th century) and was BUPA in style! It provided three hot-meals a day with slaves on hand to help you get well. Probably the daily doses of opium and curry also helped!

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Taking advantage of the location, we took refuge from the heat in the Colombo Fort Café for about 30 minutes before we all headed back to the Coach.

And that’s where our Tour ended! It’s probably been the best one so far for us this holiday – even though the heat, and especially the humidity, slowed us all down quite a bit. Sri, our Guide, was superb in every sense, and he made the half-day event something really special.

In a way though, a lot of what we’d seen today was based around the former Ceylon in its hey-day – and would it still be there next time, as this town develops and re-invents itself? Although there are plenty of NEW developments going up here, the past has, in terms of its buildings, been sadly neglected, and it would be easy to imagine that in the quest for modernisation, much of its ‘back-story’ is lost, becoming simply a day’s work for a bull-dozer!
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Back on board, it was Lunch at The Royal Lion, before a quick siesta and Dinner back at the now very familiar Britannia Restaurant.

We’re at sea again tomorrow before docking at Cochin on Saturday. From a Visa point of view, getting into India has been a nightmare with even the mighty Cunard being forced to backtrack on earlier instructions given to all Passengers.

Up the Empire!
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Cruise Day 5 and 6 (10th/11th April): At Sea

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Tuesday, 10th

A formal night tonight – “Black and White Ball”.

Nothing to see here...

The clocks went back an hour last night.

As we’re at sea for the next couple of days, it’s time to wake up our brains and take advantage of some of the on-board activities!

  • “Reporting Terrorism, Writing History” – First of three live presentations by ex-BBC Correspondent, Margaret Gilmore
  • “Infinity Express” at Illuminations (the Ship’s own Planetarium) – The History of the Universe
  • “Political Parties and their Social Media Strategies” – Radio 4 series of ‘Media Show’ Podcasts
  • “Godiva Chocolate Afternoon Tea”*

Well, three out of four isn’t bad, I suppose!
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*Under International Maritime Law, “Chocolate consumed at sea for the purposes of enjoyment and critical review does not contain any calories”. I know it’s true, because I just read it on Facebook! #flakenews
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We ate in the Britannia Restaurant again tonight – and it was superb! The it was off to the Ship’s Cinema to see the film: Swallows and Amazons before finishing-up in the Golden Lion Pub.


Wednesday, 11th

The clocks went back 30 minutes last night (weird amount!)

As we’re at sea, it’s another formal night tonight, and we’re going super-posh and eating in the Verandah Restaurant.

Before that though, another lazy day, feeding the brain! (in my case, that shouldn’t take long!)

  • “Identifying the Terrorists” – The second of Margaret Gilmore’s presentations about terrorism
  • “Fleet Street vs Online News Reporting” – Radio 4 series of ‘Media Show’ Podcasts
  • “Sea Turtles  – Ancient Ocean Dwellers” – A 50-minute presentation (that felt more like 5000!) in the Ship’s Theatre. Great subject, knowledgeable Speaker, Death by PowerPoint


It’s Colombo in Sri Lanka tomorrow where we’re on a half-day walking tour of old Colombo – visiting the Pettah District, Khan Clock Tower, Jami-Ul-Alfar Mosque and the Old Dutch Hospital complex.

Cruise Day 4 (9th April): Phuket (Thailand)

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There’s nothing like a Cruise Holiday – long lie-ins, late breakfasts and no need for an alarm clock!
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And that’s why today was nothing like a Cruise Holiday!
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We had to set the alarm for 5.30am, breakfast followed at 6.15 and we were on the Tender Service for 7am!

In spite of the super-early start, it was means to an end as we were heading North and then West to the ‘James Bond Island’ (famous from the film ‘Man with the Golden Gun’). The locals call it Khao Phing Kan, but clearly the name James Bond gives a zillion-times more marketing appeal!!

Today's Trip

Breakfast was scarily busy, even at ‘silly- o’clock’. but we managed to find our faves and get a table for two – even before the Sun was up! The it was off to the Theatre to wait for our group to be called – and it looks like we’re group 8 again!

We’d only been seated for about 5 minutes before our number was called and we were soon heading for the Deck 1 and a Lifeboat!

This is the first time on this Cruise we went ashore by Tender. This was followed by a short walk along a pre-made gangway before clustering with the rest of the Guests who were also on the Tour (I think it was about half the Ship’s guests were on this one! – clearly a popular choice!!). We were landed at Patong Beach area of Phuket – a lively, buzzing and scruffy area – but with super beaches! We also noticed Celebrity Constellation was here.

Our Guide introduced herself – Band – and led us in the direction of our transport for the day.

We were soon on-board and on our journey north. Band promised us a two-hour journey, and based on the local roads where we joined the Coach, that was something we most definitely weren’t looking forward to!
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Happily, things soon turned out differently. The partially made roads, full of pot-holes (and helmet-less moped riders) gave way to motorway standard, triple-carriageway affairs and combined with the comfy leather seats and effective air-conditioning made it a pleasurable trip. However, given the average age profile of our Coach, Band announced within 20 minutes, we’d soon be stopping for a loo-break!

..and we did! Unlike previous ventures where loos are involved, everyone was back on the Coach in record time. We continued northwards and eventually arrived at a very non-descript open shop-front with just a couple of locals on door-duty. We were ushered through the shop which extended for miles, where were greeted with more loos and a pile of hundreds of life-jackets. No bespoke size options here – just three sizes!

– Size 1: So small, you’d need to be a local for it to fit
– Size 2: A sort of 40 inch plus
– Size 3: Buddahs only

In my enthusiasm to get to the boat first, I managed to pick a size 1 – and as a result I looked ridiculous with the wrap-around straps set to ‘maximum reach’. Ann soon put me straight and I was quickly sporting a size 2 with pride, and strapping to spare!
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Other Coach parties had now joined us (I think most of the QM2 guests were now in the queue with us) as well as Passengers from other cruise lines including Celebrity who we’d seen docking with us earlier. With the sound (and smell) of diesel in the air, as our next form of transport was readied, things began to move at a pace, and we were soon aboard our boat for the next hour, on our way to meet Daniel Craig (maybe) on his island.


These are strange vessels – all 47 of them! (this is clearly a popular destination!) – overt thirty foot long and very ‘pointy’ with a humungous great engine on the back, managed single-handedly by a local.

It was an interesting boat journey. Although most of us had been smart enough to be wearing hats and sporting factor 50 – no-one expected the bow waves caused by the speed of our boat to turn inwards! As a result, the majority of us, by the time we’d reached ‘the island’ were tasting salt-water and were moist to the touch!
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As we approached the islands (I’m not sure which one is THE James Bond Island), the Boat slowed, we all began to dry out and views were very camera-worthy!




Some of the Boats actually moored to let passengers have a closer look…


If the shapes of some of these islands wasn’t unusual enough, then their make-up was! Some were bright orangey-brown, whilst others were completely covered in greenery – and there were dozens of them. Very weird and very unique!

By now, Lunch was calling, and after fifteen minutes more shirt-moistening, we spied some buildings in the distance. They were too far away to make out any detail, but after our Skipper put his foot down, we arrived at a very organised series of buildings.


We suddenly became aware of how much of today was part of a skillful operation. Each building (and there were about 10 of them) had been allocated yo a couple of the tours. Inside were tables, chairs, tablecloths – and a buffet ready and waiting. Imagine this being replicated across the other nine-buildings and you’ll become aware (as we did) of how much these Tours must contribute to Thailand’s economy – they were handling thousands! (and that was just the time we were there – and we were only there for about 90 minutes).


We finished our meal, and declined the opportunity to visit some local school-sprogs, preferring to stay under the cooling electric fan where we’d taken Lunch.

Then it was back on our Boat for the journey back to dry-land (and shirts). On arrival, we’d clearly hit ‘rush-hour’ with a lot of boats all eyeing-up the single drop-off point. After some nifty navigating, we were returning our life-jackets to the same pile where we first discovered them, and seeking the comfort of our air-conditioned coach.

Given the temperature and the humidity outside, I think most of us would have been happy just being dropped back at the Tender, but we had one more stop planned.

Back in Phuket, we were dropped outside The Gems Gallery. We were promised an opportunity to see gems actually being fashioned as well as a ‘large’ collection of jewellery ready to be swapped for a credit card! Well, nothing could have prepared us for the sheer size of the place – and the number of rings/bracelets/necklaces on display. We’ve been around a bit, but this was simply the largest collection of jewellery, we’ve ever seen anywhere in the World – every colour gemstone, in every size, in every configuration. Photography was not allowed, so I can’t do it justice – but think in terms of multiple football pitches!

Thirty-minutes later, with our credit-card safe, we were heading back to our Tender. By the time, we opened the door to our shoebox Cabin Stateroom, we been out for almost 12 hours – and we were feeling it.

No dressing-up for us tonight then – we ‘slummed-it’ with room service!

Was it all worth it though? In spite of us two probably being the only two Brits in the world who don’t like Thailand, we really enjoyed our Trip to the Islands. In spite of our intrepid nature when we’re abroad, this would have been a difficult trip to plan for just two of us – and there was clearly an advantage of being with a larger group and a Tour Guide given the location and distances involved.

We’re all at sea for the next couple of nights (so no regular blog-posting). Next stop is on Thursday: Columbo, capital of Sri-Lanka.