NEWS

 

March 2017

When I left you last month I was heading to Acapulco. Acapulco is a city and a major seaport in the state of Guerrera, which is on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, located in a deep, semi-circular bay approx, 240 miles south west of Mexico City.

Magellan docked at Terminal Maritima de Acapulco at 1.30pm, 30 minutes earlier than expected and I left the ship as soon as the local authority had cleared us. An unusual presence of police were evident everywhere as was the military personnel that surrounded the vessel. One of the crew told me it was because on the 5th January, drug cartels opened fire on the beach killing 120 people. Because of the extremely poor Internet connections I’ve encountered since leaving England I haven’t had a chance to go onto Google and check this out but with the sheer amount of police it was evident something was wrong.

A tourist officer met me outside the terminal, handed me a card and insisted on walking me to the Mercado Municipal that features locally inspired gifts. I had to give him five dollars just to get rid of him as the only thing I wanted to buy was a fan for Captain Filipe and Staff Captain Egor as the air-conditioning on the Bridge had broken and it was like a oven in there.

Believe it or not Woolworths is alive and kicking in Acapulco and I found a fan easily. Of course it was big and bulky to carry so I headed back towards the ship in search of a café that had Wi-Fi. I was quite shocked that a city of this size had hardly any outside cafes let alone Internet but persistence paid off and finally I found a small place tucked away up a side street. I spent the next two hours sending emails and writing my travel blog for Facebook. I’d written the February updates but had terrible trouble sending them to Richard, so much so that I thought I would miss the deadline.

I really struggled walking back to the ship. I’d had no idea of just how far I’d walked and only an idiot buys a standing fan and carries it back to the ship in 84 degrees of heat!!! I was so pleased to finally see ‘home’ nestling in the harbour and on giving the fan to Egor I was told that it was the wrong voltage. I won’t tell you what I said!!!!!

I’d booked dinner at La Perla Restaurant over at La Quebrada high above the sea to watch Acapulco’s amazing cliff divers leap from rock formations, some as high as 130 feet, and plunge gracefully into the sea below. Just before the divers take their positions for the long fall they kneel at a small shrine to say a prayer. I hold to hold my breath and watch in wonder as the divers spring out in a perfect flying arch, piercing the water at exactly the right moment.

After the first show the waiter took my order, Caesar salad and spaghetti Alfredo, all of which was really nice and while eating my dinner I watched the second show, which was slightly more dangerous while their final show saw all the lights turned off and the divers lit Tiki torches and held them in each of their hands while they made the jump. It was thrilling. While waiting for our taxi I spoke to some of the divers as well as one that was the father of one of the youngest performers. He told me in all the years they have done this show, although there have been injuries, no one has died. Good to know.

My friend and fellow speaker Rose got off in Mexico as did the other speaker and comic. Amazingly only one speaker got on and so for the next three weeks we have no guest entertainers and only one speaker. The passengers have gone nuts. Because 30% of the clients complained on the fist guest questionnaire that they couldn’t have dinner and then catch a show the timing were changed to accommodate their moans. They seem to forget that left 70% of holidaymakers that were happy with the times. That means there has been no entertainment out on deck at night as it would mean nothing starting until 11.30pm so it has ruined it for a good percentage of passengers, me included.

With an eight day sea run the cruise fell flat, then they found out that we’re not docking at Ho Chi Ming. Instead we are berthing at Phu My, a two-hour journey from Saigon. There is no way to get into the city unless you go on a tour, as the taxis are unreliable. That defeats the whole point of having an overnight as no one can get back to the ship. The only people to benefit are the Tour Office.

I was gagging to get off the ship by the time we laid anchor at Nuka Hive. The Marquesas! What strange and exotic visions of outlandish things does the name inspire. Naked Houris – cannibal banquets – coconut groves – coral reefs – tattooed chiefs – bamboo temples – sunny valleys planted with a plethora of breadfruit – carved canoes dancing on the flashing blue waters – savage woodlands guarded by grotesque idols – heathenish rites and human sacrifices.

In truth the Marquesas Islands Group is one of the most remote in the world. Lying about 852 miles northeast of Tahiti and about 3,000 miles away from the west coast of Mexico, the nearest continental island mass.  Nuka Hiva (Mystic Island) is the largest island in the Marquesas and known for towering spire-like peaks, secluded lush valleys, ancient religious sites, fjord-like bays and waterfalls so high that most of the falling water evaporates as it descends.

This sparsely populated island  boasts a terrain of razor-edged basaltic cliffs pounded by crashing waves, deep bays blessed with shimmering Robinson Crusoe like beaches, dramatically tall waterfalls and lush green valleys that feel like the end of the world. The island has a fascinating portfolio of archaeological sites with more tiki and open air gathering places that you can count, while the ancient rock pile ruins of house foundations called poe poe seem to inhabit every stretch of forest

Hakopehi (Tai-o-hae) is the main harbour port on the south coast of Nuka Hiva, ships are anchored in a perfect little horseshoe bay and the passengers are tendered a 10 minute ride into the dock in Taihoue, the capital. Because of its volcanic origins the island has dramatic scenery and a vast natural harbour, which was formed due to the partial collapse of a volcanoes caldera.

Magellan was due to arrive at 8.00am but we got there an hour earlier and tendering started very quickly. I took advantage of my ‘Priority Tender’ ticket and caught the first boat across. Arriving at the small dock we were welcomed by local dressed in their ceremonial garb playing drums and an instrument similar to a didgeridoo. The head woman, whose wonderful headdress was made up by a garland of flowers presented us each with a jacaranda, a small white flower that I tucked behind my ear.

A large Polynesian grass roof hut seemed to be where the action was and it was overflowing with stalls that the islanders had set up along the road. Carved tikis, wooden clubs, spears, axes, pestles, bowls, fish hooks from bones, stones and wood. Other unique products included  Tapo cloth, made form the bark of the mulberry tree, black pearls and vanilla products were everywhere you looked..

Famous for intricate wood carvings, sculptured from precious native woods such as rosewood and purple wood, Marquesan bowls, plates and statues are highly prized the world over, or so they say.  According to local belief infertility can be cured by touching then phallus-shaped carved Tiki of Hikokua (you heard it here!).

The centre of the market housed a bar/restaurant where everyone seemed to go and as soon as I headed in that direction I could hear live music and I found one lone guy on an electric organ complete with backing tracks and he played continuously without a break. The musicians on the ship could learn a thing or two from the local players.

I grabbed a table on the corner and bought an iced cold soda and found to my delight that the place had free Wi-Fi and that was me for the next couple of hours.

The restaurant quickly began filling up and on spying a couple I was friendly with on the ship, I invited them over to join me. So as not to lose the table we each took it in turns to wander off and explore. I timed my exit to perfection because on coming back the owner, a rather large woman with an infectious smile and a big booming belly laugh announced it was a special day and we were going to be treated to a local show.

A troupe of scantily clad girls spread out through the eatery and danced to traditional island music, swaying their hips around a large Tiki statue. It lasted well over an hour with two costume changes and it was a real treat. It probably wouldn’t have gone that well at The Fox and Hound, but here within its native setting, it worked well.

A couple on the next table had food delivered and I have to say the steak and chips looked good. They both confirmed same so we all followed suit. The portions were absolutely ridiculous and when I’d finished it didn’t look like I’d put a dent in the plate. For the princely sum of $10 it was a good deal.

The temperatures predicted were in excess of 40degrees and I certainly felt like I was starting to melt so I decided to head back to the tender. I’d taken a walk along the beach earlier and collected a couple of interesting stones, which soon felt like a ton of bricks. Under normal circumstances I would have dipped my body in the ocean, it was certainly hot enough but prior to out tenders coming over the locals had been gutting fish near the water’s edge and thrown the  entrails into the sea. It wasn’t long before a school of sharks made their presence known and so I left them to it.

Magellan sailed out of the harbour at 6.00pm and to sum the trip I I’d recommend anyone to visit if they are passing. Considering how remote the island is and the stories about cannibalism I expected deep impenetrable forests and locals living in the dark ages. Instead the island and its friendly natives were happy to see us, hospitable and the level of modern offerings were a big surprise.

Sadly during our eight day sea run a gentleman passed away from a massive heart attack. I’d noted the new face on the smokers deck and saw that the lady was crying so I went over to see if I could help. The poor widow was understandably bereft but she was stuck on the ship for six days as the nearest place to offload the body was Tahiti as Nuka Hiva had no hospital and no proper airport. She wasn’t a smoker but had started from the stress. All she wanted to do was scream and hit out at someone but to be caged up within the confines of a steel box must be agony. I spent five days with her making sure she had the relevant paperwork she’d need. The doctor on board who is Greek, arrogant and thinks he is above us mere mortals was very rude to me when I asked him a question about the insurance paperwork. The way I look at it if you are prepared to come up to a passenger deck in uniform, sit and have a cigarette while laughing and joking with his underlings then he is fair game to be approached by passengers. If he doesn’t want to be bothered he should go down to the crew area on Deck 8 and smoke there.

I was very concerned that Anna had no paperwork whatsoever but after a lot of nagging Anne finally received an envelope under her cabin door, which you brought up to me to check. Thank goodness I did as they’d given her a photocopy of the death certificate. Down I went again to be told that is what they always give. Unbelievable and after a lot of noise we were finally given the original.

I received an email from Anna once she was home in Sydney. She’d disembarked in Tahiti where her family were waiting for her, having flown it to support her. The first thing the officials wanted was the death certificate and not just them but the consul, immigration, the attending doctor and the holing place. It can take up to 5 weeks to repatriate a body but Anna’s daughter is a bit like me, she took the bull by the horns and put her foot down creating a fuss until at the end they expedited the process We were in Tahiti on the8th February and Anna’s husband came home on the 17th, believe me that is quick. The funeral was taking place on the 24 which was the day after the ship left Sydney otherwise I would have attended out of respect for the family. Now that Andrew has been laid to rest the healing process can start and I really hope the awful pain of loss eases slightly soon. I wanted to cry when she thanked me saying “you helped me to breathe again”.

Tahiti isn’t the fantasy tropical island you imagine from the holiday brochure pictures. It might well be gorgeous on the other side of the island but the main town, where we docked is not that pleasant. Papeete is the capital of French Polynesia, an overseas country of France in the Pacific Ocean.

Papeete means ‘water basket’ and was once a gathering place where Tahitians came to fill their calabashes with fresh water. Now the capital city of Tahiti boasts resorts, spas, fine dining, vibrant markets and boutiques.

Magellan docked at 7.30am at EPI South, within easy reach of the city centre. Anna and I were on deck very early as she smoked her last cigarette. Her children don’t know she started and they are very anti-smoking so she’d armed herself with a patch and readied herself to see her three children. The authorities actually allowed them on the vessel and Anna insisted that I meet her children. The union was so emotional and everyone was crying including me. They all hugged me and thanked me for looking after their mum and I took the opportunity to take my leave and wish them all well.

The waterfront esplanade stretches from To’ Ata Square to Vai’ete Square and it’s a scenic stroll alongside the harbour which was littered with boats of all sizes including Holland America who were berthed opposite us. While three musicians welcomed Magellan, the other ship had a whole fleet of dancers and singers in traditional grass skirts with the women wearing bras fashioned out of coconut shells. Must be one size fits all!!! It was only a ten-minute walk over to the quay but I was drawn over by the tribal drums that could be heard for blocks around. I stayed about ½ hour watching what was a rather good show and the Tourist Board had set up an array of stalls selling tikis and jewellery of every kind including the island’s famous black pearls.

From there I walked the two blocks to the 155-year-old Municipal Market called ‘Le Marche’. Open daily from 5.00am – 6.00pm it offers the sights, sounds and smells of authentic Polynesian life. Vendors come from all over the island to sell traditional handicrafts, woven goods, oils, fruits and flowers.

Last time I was here in 2012 I took an East Island tour, which included a visit to Arahoho Blowhole and the waterfalls and walking trails at Faarumei. This time I was quite content to walk around the myriad of boutiques in an around Vaima Centre. This area had everything from pearl shops, bookstores, newspaper stands, coffee shops and banks. The Boardwalk atmosphere  is an informal and lively setting where dozens colourful food wagons host a variety of island cuisine. The one item you notice everywhere  is the colourful pareo, which is their traditional sarong. Originally they were patterned with flowers, in particular the hibiscus and they were printed on a cotton sheet of about 120cm wide and 180cm long. Now they are dye painted with various colours. I didn’t buy one myself as I have several bought on previous trips but I did pick up a book of how to tie it 100 different ways. I might have exaggerated slightly.

One thing you do notice is how expensive everything is and it is said that Tahiti has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Norway is another, they are small islands with few jobs and it is quite insular. I certainly wouldn’t like to live there whereas our next port is somewhere I’d like to die.

Under a one-hour flight from the island of Tahiti or Moorea, the island of Bora Bora with a lagoon resembling an artiste’s palette of blues and greens is love at first slight. Romantics from around the world have laid claim to this island where the castle-like Mount Otemanu pierces the sky. Lush tropical slopes and valleys blossom with hibiscus. White palm-covered motos circle the illuminated lagoon like a delicate necklace. Perfect white sand beaches give way to emerald waters where coloured fish animate the coral gardens as they greet the giant manta rays. This could easily be described as the centre of the romantic universe where luxury resorts and spas dot the island with overwater bungalows, thatched roof villas and fabled ambience.

Taking its name from the ancient phrase Pora Pora, meaning ‘first born’ from legends describing this as the first island to rise from Taaroa, the supreme god., fished it out of the waters after the mythical creation of Havai’I, now known as Raiatea. Although the fist letter ‘B’ doesn’t exist in the Tahitian language, when Captain Cook first heard the name he mistakenly mistook the softened sound of the Tahitian ‘P’ for ‘B’ and called the island Bora Bora.

An island that can only be described as paradise on Earth, where Mount Otemanu overlooks the inviting lagoon and the cascading green vegetation contrasts perfectly with the cobalt sea.  Think of brilliant white beaches, a myriad of marine life and intricate coral reefs and you’ll be somewhat close to picturing this idyllic island.

Magellan sailed into Bora Bora, an island surrounded by sand-fringed motus (islets) and laid anchor near Vaitape Pier where the ten-minute ride by tender awaited. I remember this island from 2012 and nowhere else I’ve been to comes close to it. I couldn’t wait to get off and made full use of my ‘Priority’ ticket to catch the first tender. I’d booked a private lagoon tour with snorkeling and lunch. The pick up was 9.00am and I found the two people waiting for me from Maohi Tours easily. Teddy our driver and Vi our host who spoke English led us to the other side of the pier where built in the Polynesian tradition, an outrigger canoe bobbed over the tranquil waters. Made of wood and painted in vivid yellow it was decorated in leaves and flowers and I was so excited as it was easily the best boat moored at the pier. I watched as hordes of passengers crammed into motorboats while I ambled over to the private launch. Pure luxury. I felt like the luckiest person alive.

As I’d paid for the whole boat I took a friend with me. Andre is the German host on board and his eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw our transport. The lagoon is three times the size of the land mass and offers an amazing range of hues of blue and turquoise and it is so clear you can see right to the bottom of its crystal waters. The lagoonarium was our first stop and it was a wonderful way to get up close and personal with exotic sea creatures. Teddy handed out the snorkel equipment but I didn’t bother as I could see through the water perfectly. The water was so warm it was my first swim in the ocean in years and it felt so good I didn’t want to get out. My illness has brought problems with feeling the cold. It appears my body doesn’t have the ability to heat itself properly so the Caribbean waters were just too cold for me so this was an amazing treat.

Our second stop was in shallow and clear waters and I was able to stand up while our guide fed the graceful manta rays that came and surrounded me without a care in the world. One very large ray was coming out of the water for kisses and Vi explained this mama was pregnant as indicated by the lump on her back. Off the Point  Matira at the entrance to the pass, the white valley teems with black tip reef sharks and more mantas. It was like watching a beautiful ballet. Wading back to the boat I could feel something nip at my ankle continuously and I was extremely pleased I had worn my sea boots otherwise it might have broken the skin. Vi pointed out this little black and yellow fish, which was merely protecting its home, which I was standing next to.

Our third stop was the coral gardens where there was an abundance of sea life but I left the swim to Andre as it was quite a swim from the boat and the waters were very deep. Because we didn’t stay very long there Teddy took us to an area where no tourists went and standing in the sea there was no sign of life in any direction. It was sheer bliss. Teddy fashioned snowballs out of the soft sand and handed it to me to cover my body with. I’ve never seen sand so white or so soft, it was like wet talcum powder. I was loath to leave as it was so perfect but Vi explained lunch was ready. We glided over to the private motu called ‘Tenanamu’, which her family owned, where the other part of the team were waiting to greet us. We were introduced to two cooks who had prepared our food in a traditional earth oven made with volcanic rocks and covered with banana leaves. Vi called us over for the opening of the oven ceremony. The table was set at the foot of the lagoon with an umbrella in its centre to protect us from the rays of the sun. On the menu: suckling pig, chicken with local spinach, manioc plantain, breadfruit, raw fish salad with coconut milk (which I bottled out of trying) and for dessert bananas in vanilla and fresh tropical fruits. On the BBQ they’d grilled Tuna and Mahe Mahe. Andre is as picky as me when it comes to food and he is a vegetarian although he did eat both types of fish whereas I only had the pork and fresh pineapple. To be honest I wasn’t even hungry but it would have been rude not to have tried anything as it was obvious they had gone to a lot of trouble. They had explained that the suckling pig takes 5 hours to cook. Our plates were made of weaved grasses and banana leaves and there was no cutlery in sight although we did get a napkin!

I went back into the lagoon after lunch and was surprised to find it so shallow and so I walked out further but the level never changed. When I looked back at the shoreline I was shocked to find I was at least 35 feet away. It felt like I was walking on water. I sat in the water and just enjoyed the moment. With five sea days ahead of us I was solely tempted to stay on the island and fly to New Zealand to meet up with the ship and if I’d had the money I would have done but then if I’d had more money I wouldn’t have been on Magellan in the first place. The tour was to finish at 2.30 but we were still on the island at that time as I didn’t want to get out of the water but reluctantly I climbed aboard the outrigger to make our final journey back to the pier and waved goodbye to our island hosts.

The last tender wasn’t until 5.00pm so we had 90 minutes to play with. The pier hosts a small craft market where local artisans offer handmade shell jewellery, belts, wood sculptures and pareos. Andre bought us both some coconut oil and having dispensed with the souvenir shopping we walked to the local café, where for the price of a soda, we could check our emails. It was too late in England to ring Max but I sent loads of messages instead.

We caught the very last tender back to the ship and it was with a heavy heart that I said my goodbyes to this beautiful island. I went to my cabin to freshen up before going up to Deck 10 to watch the sailaway but Andre was nowhere to be seen. I found out later that once he sat on his bed that was it, he didn’t surface until morning and unfortunately he was rather burnt. Shame.

During our five days at sea we crossed the International Date Line, which was quite amusing as we went to bed on the 13th February and woke up on the 15th February. I know a lot of the male passengers were secretly pleased they’d had a reprieve.

At least we arrived in Auckland but like on my previous visit it was pouring with rain. Although I did get off the ship to stretch my legs I didn’t wander far as I hadn’t really enjoyed the city the last time I was here. Another day at sea and we finally ditched the rain by the time we sailed into Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. It sits near the North Island’s southern most point on the Cook Strait. A compact city, it encompasses a waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, a working harbour and colourful timber houses on surrounding hills. Strong winds through the Cook Strait give it the nickname ‘Windy Wellington’. Magellan docked at Aotca Quay beside Westpac Stadium two miles from the city centre. The Port Authority doesn’t allow passengers to walk through the port so shuttle buses were provided to take us back and forth to Lambeth Quay. From the drop off point it was only a few minutes walk to Willis Street, the town’s main shopper’s paradise. I didn’t loiter as I was on a mission to go to Wellington’s famous inner city slice of bohemia in Cuba Street, a place with culinary and creative soul. It’s where people meet, busk, shop, dine and to soak up the capital’s cool culture.

Cuba Street was named after an early 1840 settler ship of the same name, not an island in the Caribbean although a number of the street’s residents have since run with the latter theme - Fidel’s Café , where the coffee is Cuban and the hospitality is pure New Zealand – is one of the many tasty spots locals love to chew the literal and philosophical fat. Cuba Street is a meeting of minds, menus and market culture enjoyed by everyone from young to old, hipsters to suits and locals to visitors.

The Cuba quarter is widely regarded as the best place for vintage shopping in New Zealand thanks to a trail of second-hand boutiques and I certainly followed the trail. The only reason I didn’t go back to the ship laden with bags is that all the fashion items I loved were made for the skinny brigade. I stopped at one of the local cafes with outside seating and there at last I was able to speak to my boy. I felt a lot better after the call as it has been so hard making contact firstly because of the appalling Internet connection of the ship but lately because of the 10-hour time difference. After today there are another four sea days until we reach Sydney so it was important that I speak to Max.

Feeling happier with life I went to explore the area more thoroughly and boy is it a fun place. It has a different vibe and I loved the street art and the fact that the city has kept its original facades on the front of their buildings so it looked uber cool. I found the most delicious magazine and bookshop so it would have been rude to leave everything there. There was just one problem, I didn’t realize how heavy they would be and it didn’t help that I found a huge toy shop en-route and at last I found a backgammon set and the board game Sequence. I wasn’t prepared to leave either behind as there just isn’t enough to do on the ship and after seven weeks I was almost puzzled out.

Next lunch and I headed for a place that the assistant cruise director had recommended after eating there in Auckland. It would seem that Hamburger Fuel is a chain in New Zealand and as soon as I spotted a branch that was lunch decided. Delicious but bloody hell the burger was enormous and I was only able to eat half. Normally I’d have taken a doggie bag but we are not allowed to take any food back on the ship. Shame.

I wanted to carry on exploring but I was having trouble walking because of the bags and desperately wanted a taxi. Not only didn’t I find one but I ended up having to walk the 30 minutes back to the shuttle bus. God knows where all the taxis were! It was so annoying that I ended up tiring myself out so much that I didn’t have the energy to go out again. Opposite the shuttle bus was the cable car which took you up to the  Botanical Gardens but no one seemed to know how late it was open and I didn’t want to take the chance on going out again and finding it closed.

The weather had changed drastically since our arrival in Auckland and although Wellington stayed dry it was quite cold compared to the high temperatures we’d experienced over the last month so I was reduced to wearing a hoodie on deck to watch the sail out just before the clock announced a new day.

I needed the four sea days that followed to recharge my batteries because I know Sydney would be challenging. A country as big as your imagination Australia has it all, a coastline extensive enough to circumnavigate the globe, fringed with blissful beaches and vibrantly colourful coral reefs, glittering cosmopolitan cities with iconic skylines, ancient rainforests, unique wildlife and boundless terracotta deserts dotted with breathtaking monoliths sacred to an indigenous people with fascinating stories to tell.

Sydney belongs to that exclusive club of world cities that give you a sense of excitement from the first time you see it. Home to four million people it is the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in Australia. Indented with numerous bays and beaches and gilded with a glistening Opera House, Sydney Harbour is the presiding icon for the city and for urban Australia. Most tourists spend their time on the harbour’s south side, within an area bounded by Chinatown in the south, Harbour Bridge in the north, Darling Harbour to the west and the beaches and coastline to the east.

Today many of the old inner-city wharves have been redeveloped, and places such as Walsh Bay Wharves and Darling Harbour are home to theatres, restaurants, shops and hotels. Historic areas such as The Rocks, Millers Point and Woolloomooloo, which house the hundreds of workers from the wharves and the docks of Sydney are now great places for visitors to explore.

Reaching elegantly across Sydney Harbour is the iconic Harbour Bridge, which carries rail, bicycle, vehicular and pedestrian traffic between the North Shore and Sydney Central Business District. Because of its design ‘The Coat Hanger’ is the affectionate nickname for the famous landmark, standing 440 feet above the world’s deepest natural harbour. It is the world’s largest – but not longest – steel arch bridge. The top of the arch changes height by about 180 millimeters due to changes in temperature.

Where once there were tram depots, now stands one of the 20th century’s finest structures, the Sydney Opera House. It was inaugurated in 1973 after a planned building time of five years turned into sixteen years and a budgeted cost of $8 million became $102 million. The Opera House comprises of five principal auditoria, each holding between 300 and 2,700 seats for opera, film, theatres and concerts. Each and every pipe of the Grand Organ placed in the Opera House is named – that is 10,154 names.

There are two main cruise terminals in Sydney. Overseas Passenger Terminal is in Circular Quay next to the same named railway station and in the Central Business District. Needless to say C&M are too cheap to go there. Magellan was relegated to White Bay Cruise Terminal, which opened in April 2013 replacing the wharves previously used in Darling Harbour, which was pushed out by development. The new terminal has no public transit access or long-term parking and C&M didn’t provide any shuttle buses, what a surprise!!!

Captain Sousa had invited me up to the Bridge for the sail in, which is quite an honour. The sky was still pitch black when I entered the inner sanctum at 5.30am but the lights of the city beckoned. The local pilot embarked and for all intent and purposes he took over the helm, but took advice from the Captain. It was exciting listening to each order being echoed back by three members of the Bridge crew and at last one could just make out the silhouette of the Harbour Bridge. The first time I sailed into Sydney was in 2012 and although exciting, being on the Bridge added another element to our journey. The Harbour Bridge was almost in complete darkness and it really made the experience feel surreal. As we straightened our coarse heading the sun slowly made its ascent twinkling over the harbour waters but suddenly the Opera House became visible, it really was an incredible sight and my cameras didn’t take a breath  until we had pulled our anchor out and tied up at the quay.

Immigration insisted that every single passenger had to get off the ship and present themselves to the officials and no one was allowed back on board until the process was complete. However it didn’t stop anyone leaving the terminal so I was off to catch the Captain Cook ferry that ran a service, albeit not free, between White Bay and King Street Wharf.

Although the walk to Circular Quay was estimated to be 4 miles the map showed that the main shopping areas were en-route so I steeled myself, or rather my legs, for a lot of walking. Shopping opportunities in Sydney are endless. Pitt Street Mall and George Street located right in the city centre are popular locations as the area leads to several mammoth-shopping complexes such as The Strand, Centrepoint and Westfield, a six-floor shoppers haven. One passage leads to the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), an elegant shopping mall in an old palatial market, now housing designer clothes with its unique collection of 180 exquisite boutiques sprinkled under a suite of copper-clad domes, the QVB is without a doubt one of the world’s most beautiful shopping destinations and Michele was determined to hit them all.

The first thing I noticed was the sheet amount of Ugg shops all they were all genuine. There are two things on my world cruise shopping list, Uggs from Australia and kimonos from Hong Kong. The choice was awesome but I tried to calm down and not get too carried away but I fell in love at every turned corner. The shops all had massive sales and Uggs are hugely cheaper than in England anyway so I was onto a winner. I bought a  full-length  black boot with golden fur lapping down the front on either side. Amazing, I was one happy camper.

Peaking high above the buildings I eyed Sydney Tower also known as AMP Tower Centrepoint, the building is the tallest in the city standing 1000 feet in the air. The Tower offers stunning uninterrupted 360-degree views of Sydney and its famous landmarks. To be honest I’d had the most amazing view from the vantage point of the ship so I didn’t go in. Instead I gradually made my way down to Circular Quay stooping to browse at all the wares on offer in the magical city.

I finally found an electrical shop with a gadget I was after that plugs into my IPhone, has a 16gb memory and has a USB connection at the other end which means I can save all the pictures on my mobile and a them to my laptop without worrying about trying to download the software or borrowing the cruise director’s laptop. My MacBook Air is ancient and unbeknown to me it wasn’t capable of downloading the pictures without a certain App and because we can never get a strong enough connection at sea it has proved impossible. I have run out of memory so many times which then means I cannot take any more photographs on the phone until I delete them. With this little gadget it takes minutes to clear the cache. Yippee.

Next stop The Rocks, which I the oldest part of Sydney where colonists settled during the 1780s. Here the 11 ships of the First Fleet dropped anchor in 1788. The Sydney Visitors Centre, once a mariner’s mission, now offers insight into the history of the Rocks, with displays of artifacts and a short video. What was once dark, dirty dockland is now a picturesque tourist hot spot with several of the city’s best hotels and restaurants making it their home.

Talking of hotels I’d decided to treat myself with an early birthday present and stay at a hotel for the night. The ship only has showers and the thought of a long, luxurious bath made me feel quite giddy. Surrounded by the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney Harbour and the city’s skyline, Sir Stamford at Circular Quay is listed as being one of Australia’s  finest deluxe hotels. Located on Macquarie Street the hotel is in the heart of the financial district, an easy walk to the Opera House and The Rocks.

Although it was easy to find the last block was up a very steep hill and I struggled badly. Halfway up I noted at least 10 police cars, armed officers and the roads blocked to traffic. Huffing and puffing I asked one of the officers if there was a bomb scare. I was assured not but no other information was forthcoming. I explained that I was just about to check-in to the hotel and I wanted to know what was going on. Once I’d shown my confirmation from the hotel I was informed the Israeli Prime Minister was staying there. I finally made it to the top of the hill and went into the lobby looking like the bag lady. My room wasn’t ready but I was okay with that only wanting to drop my purchases off so I could go out again empty handed and my stomach was grumbling.

I went back to The Rocks as I spotted a place called Ribs & Burgers and you know from the name exactly what you’re getting. My burger was so good and because it was 5.30pm there was no one else sitting outside. I love eating out as it is something one can rarely do in England and suitably stuffed to the gills I made my way to my night tour’s meeting point

I booked an independent tour from England as the ship has little to offer me other than coach trips round the city. It is all rather boring whereas I’d booked a photographer who specialised in special effects. For three hours we played around using the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House as our backdrop, it was so cool and I’m hoping the pictures turn out well as I haven’t seen them yet.

******STOP PRESS - I now have some of the Pictures ******

The photographer offered to walk me back to the hotel and at 10.20pm a very tired Michele fell into her room and under normal circumstances I would have fallen into bed but I was determined to have my long awaited bath. Sheer heaven and to cap it all the bed sheets were crisp and pristine. I don’t think it took me more than a minute or to before meeting up with Morpheus.

I didn’t wake up until late  but by mid-morning I was walking across the road to visit the Royal Botanical Gardens. I spent a fabulous few hours. More than 80 acres of sweeping green lawns, groves of indigenous and exotic trees, duck ponds, greenhouses and some 45,124 types of plants. Other reasons to visit include the many striking sculptures scattered throughout the park, the bird and wildlife, spectacular views over the Opera House and Bridge as well as two restaurants. I headed along the various trails exiting right in front of the Opera House to take those final pictures before heading back to Magellan.

We were due to leave White Bay at 6.00pm but nothing happened and no announcement was made. If a passenger is late back to the ship they usually tannoy a message asking that person to contact reception. Looking down the quayside the boys that usually cast off our ropes were nowhere to be seen but I did notice two range rovers speed into the car park and five border control officers ran inside the terminal and boarded the ship. It would seem that one of the crew liked Sydney rather too much and had jumped ship. Our clearance was revoked and as the clock ticked I could imagine the financial controller counting the rising costs, not just of the extra charges by extending our berth time, but manning the areas and the extra fuel we’d need to make up the time we were now losing. 80 minutes later Magellan was allowed to continue on her way. There was nothing anyone could physically do as it was obvious the crew member had no intention of returning. So more drama on the high seas.

We now have another day at sea and once we get to Hamilton Island I will have to send this to Richard so he can get it up on time.

In the meanwhile here are a few snippets on Matt Monro news.

 

“One Voice’ The Matt Monro Story’ opened on 4th February at Richmond Theatre and this time round we’ve updated the songs and script to include even more.

Matt celebrated his birthday at the Beck Theatre and had the whole audience sing Happy Birthday to him.

Now a few weeks into the tour, we thought you might like to see some pictures of the show on the road. 

Don’t forget to visit Matt’s new website http://www.mattmonrojnr.co.uk/
and his new facebook page https://www.facebook.com/MonroJnr

Matt’s new album came out to coincide with the tour. “A Father’s Legacy’ is the first album since “If He Could See Me Now” which was in 2007 and “Dancing With His Father’ in 2010.

Matt’s doing the album in the style of dad in terms of arrangements and although I don’t have the final running order I have managed to get the track listing.

Fourth Blue Monday
Didn’t We
For Once in My Life
Georgia on My Mind
Let Me Sing
One Morning in May
Gonna Build a Mountain
One Voice
You’ve Got Possibilities
So Little Time
This is the Life
Wonderful World
On Days Like These
You Made Me So Very Happy
Yesterday When I Was Young

Just so you know Jasmine records issued an erroneously titled "Complete Recordings 1955 - 1962" set by dad on 9th December. This in all likelihood steals all Richard Moore’s remasters, as this record company doesn’t have the rights to any of the original masters. Certainly they don’t have the masters from Decca, Love is the Same Anywhere or The Complete Singles Collection.

This is either a substandard release or they have taken our masters for their own gain. There is never any finesse or research taken. Thy have listed the Parade of the Pops LP tracks as BBC Transcriptions. Where they pulled that from I don’t know as they are EMI tracks recorded at Abbey Road and have nothing to do with the BBC apart from being the same name as the radio show.

Strange Lady took us years to get hold of and Richard lovingly worked on the disc to give it its best possible treatment. Jasmine can’t have got the masters anywhere else so I urge you not to buy this product. I’m so fed up with these fly-by-night companies coming out of the woodwork to make a buck off other people’s work.

I’ve been working on a new project for the last 20 months and all being equal the book will be ready to go to print in April or May so I have it ready for the Celebrity cruise season.  The working title is ‘The Port Guide for Mere Mortals’ and includes a ‘Mobility Challenged’ section which is something sadly missing from other guides.

The first edition includes Norway and Europe and I’m relying on all of you to let me have any recommendations of shops, eateries, tours and the places that have impressed you Even if you have a valuable tip I want to hear it , you might know the best places for duty free and if anyone has issues with their mobility please share your stories with me. It could be that you need to tell me a place to avoid and that is equally important. This project is important so if you have any suggestions of things to include please email me at michele@mattmonro.com. Maybe you have a great title for the book then please don’t be shy, everything is valuable and you’ll be helping future travelers.

 

Cruise Dates 2017
5 January – 5 May - Cruise & Maritime Magellan World Cruise
18 June -2 July - Celebrity Eclipse
2 July-16 July - Celebrity Eclipse
16 July            -30 July - Celebrity Eclipse
30 July            -13 August - Celebrity Eclipse
13 August-26 August            - Celebrity Eclipse
26 August-3 September - Celebrity Eclipse
3 September-17 September - Celebrity Eclipse
17 September-21 September - Celebrity Eclipse
28 September -8 October - Celebrity Eclipse
8 October-18 October - Celebrity Eclipse
18 October-28 October - Celebrity Eclipse

I looked forward to the World Cruise on Magellan as it gives me a chance to check out a few places I’ve not been before. I’m writing a travel blog like I did in 2012 and have uploaded some pictures and video footage onto my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/michelemonro every time I’m in a port with an Internet connection.

Don’t forget to check out our Spotlight feature this month, I know so many of you enjoy them. This month we look in on the ever popular Dusty Springfield

Check out the ‘Rough Guide to mattmonro.com’, which is available towards the bottom of the Homepage. If you don’t know how to access certain areas of the site or in fact are unaware of new areas, this guide will explain how easy this website is to get around, once you know how.

There is also another information box “How to Use the Forum’. I know a lot of people have been tempted to join in on some of our conversations but are slightly nervous of doing so. For that reason I have printed step-by-step instructions of how to access it. It really does only take a few minutes.

Whatever the coming year holds, suffice to say that I shall be plugging Matt Monro’s music at every opportunity.  That is the wonderful thing about working the ships, it gives me a brand new audience each time and if then, a small percentage go home a fan, then it is worth all the blood, sweat and tears, not to mention the Bay of Biscay!!!!

Until next month take care of yourselves and don’t forget to check my travel blog out at Facebook.co.uk/MichleMonro. see you all again in April.

Warmest to you and yours

Michele
x

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