Madeira 10th January 2019

We docked in Madeira at 10am on 10th January. Considering we had a 13 hour delay and a diversion to Vigo for the medical emergency evacuation, I am surprised it wasn’t later!

I had a trip booked for 12.30pm. I decided to go for a short walk and get some photos of Arcadia in Port. As well as Arcadia, Fred Olson’s Balmoral was also in port. The weather was looking good for the day.

The cruise excursion trip took us to a little fishing village Camara de Lobos. As we approached the village we saw many small colourful boats in the bay just waiting for fishermen to take them out to sea. The streets were narrow and the Christmas lights were still up (but not lit). we were told that the fishermen are sometimes out for days at a time. It was a beautiful little harbour.

Unfortunately we didn’t stop for a photo so this was taken through the coach window.

Viewpoint photos taken from a cliff and the cliff had a viewing platform made of glass. It was cracked on the edge, so I wasn’t going to risk standing on it.

We were then making our way to the second photo opportunity stop. The coach took us through twisting and winding roads to a look out but we were still in Camara de Lobos. The roads took us past a plethora of different fruits and vegetables that is grown in Madeira. The soil in madeira is volcanic rich. The different vegetables are grown at different altitudes throughout the island.

We saw so many things growing including bananas, mangos, papayas, avocados, sweet potato and grape vines. There was also a lot of sugar cane grown which is used mostly for molasses. The reason that Madeira is able to grow so much of a variation of fruit and vegetables is down to the volcanic soil and its richness of nutrients. These were what were growing at lower altitudes and as we went up further into the mountains, it all changed and we saw less of the lush green and it was mainly dominated by sweet chestnuts, walnuts and eucalyptus trees.

We then went on to Santo Antonio. It was a beautiful look out point where we could see Arcadia in port. in the distance of the second photo, you can see two more islands of the Madeira Archipelago.

We carried on our ascent up to ‘Nuns Valley’ which was 3,300ft above sea level.

Nuns Valley is a small parish nestling between almost perpendicular mountains in the heart of the island. Both Eira do Serrado and Paredão viewpoints are excellent locations to contemplate the magnificent views of this parish.

The huge cauldron in which Curral das Freiras is sitting was either formed by erosion, which is the more recent theory, or as many still believe, by volcanic activity.
In 1566 the nuns from the Santa Clara convent fled from pirates attacking Funchal and found seclusion here, where they also brought the convent treasure.

The parish is very isolated, and locals mainly live of what they grow. The local chestnuts are delicious and are used in everyday cooking.

Curral das Freiras was the property of a couple that sold this land to the captain of Funchal, João Gonçalves da Câmara. This captain gave the lands to his daughters when they entered the Santa Clara convent (also built by him). (info taken from here).

Again, apologies for some of the images – they were taken from the coach window. They shows the change in products that can be grown depending on altitude. There is a lot of Eucalyptus trees in Madeira, although a devastating fire wiped a lot of them out three years ago.

While we were up at the viewing point for Nuns Valley, we were ‘treated’ to some cake, tea, coffee or madeira wine. I had asked the tour guide for something suitable and he said there wasn’t, so I decided to just take a walk (after I got back to the coach some other passengers had said the guide was looking for me with a gluten free cake, but they said it didn’t look very nice. I did point out that Gluten free food is an acquired taste!), anyway – I had a good look around and it was a very pleasant view and I enjoyed it. After joining the coach, we made our way down the twisting and winding roads and back to our coach.

Sail away party started at 5.30 in the Aquarius pool and bar area. When I got there, it was well underway!

The sail away is great fun. The entertainment team try their hardest to get everyone up and dancing! Some do, but the majority don’t. They have ‘Great British’ songs playing like ‘I am sailing’, ‘reach for the sky’, ‘Agadoo’ and many more. Great fun watching everyone!

Just after 6pm, we enjoyed a lovely sunset. I thought it was beautiful how just as our ship started to turn, the sunset lit up the coast of madeira. Very beautiful and a lovely ending to a wonderful day in Madeira.

Thank you for reading. I have 5 days at sea now until St Lucia.

Preparing for an 87 night holiday!

On January 6th 2019, I am embarking on an epic (for me anyway) trip and going away from my husband, kids (23 and 24 year old who have both left home) and dogs for 87 nights. I am doing half a world cruise on P&O’s arcadia, a two week cruise on Sea Princess around New Zealand, travelling onto Sydney to spend 4 nights, collecting a hire car and travelling to Melbourne over 10 days before arriving in Melbourne for 4 nights and heading back to the UK on 29th March. I will be visiting lots of places, but before I leave, I wanted to share some useful information of tips to make your stay on a cruise ship easier and to make the cabin homely which I collected from members of my world cruise Facebook group that I set up just after I booked the tripOn January 6th 2019, I am embarking on an epic (for me anyway) trip and going away from my husband, kids and dogs for 87 nights. I am doing half a world cruise on P&O’s arcadia, a two week cruise on Sea Princess around New Zealand, travelling onto Sydney to spend 4 nights, collecting a hire car and travelling to Melbourne over 10 days before arriving in Melbourne for 4 nights and heading back to the UK on 29th March. I will be visiting lots of places, but before I leave, I wanted to share some useful information of tips collected from members of my world cruise Facebook group that I set up just after I booked the trip.If you were going on such a long trip with your partner and leaving your home empty, you would have to consider such things as informing your insurance company or arranging a house sitter, keep the heating on low (if in the winter), have your mail held at the local office, emptying and turning off fridges and freezers etc. Fortunately for me, my husband is staying, so I didn’t have to do any of this.

If you were going on such a long trip with your partner and leaving your home empty, you would have to consider such things as informing your insurance company or arranging a house sitter, keep the heating on low (if in the winter), have your mail held at the local office, emptying and turning off fridges and freezers etc. Fortunately for me, my husband is staying, so I didn’t have to do any of this.

The following are my suggestions to make your holiday more enjoyable.

Magnets – these are handy on a cruise because the walls are steel, so you can use them to attach your daily paper (which has details of activities on the ship) and personal items (photos of loved ones) to make your cabin more homely. I’ve purchased four to start me off and they are of my home town, Bristol. I hope to buy a magnet in each port as a small memento of my trip so will have a few more before I get home.

Magnetic hooks – again, these can go on the wall and are useful for hanging your bag, coat, bathrobe and anything else that hangs and should save you space.

Seasickness tablets or bands – I haven’t ever suffered from sea sickness but I have a fear of suffering seasickness! I have purchased some Sturgeon which I use if the Captain says the sea state is going to be really rough. On a Cruise ship, you know when its going to be bad because seasickness bags get put out by all the lifts!

Travel socket – I’ve got a travel socket that has two plugs and four USB slots. Most cruise ships have only one plug in the cabin, so I always travel with my travel plug. It will also be useful for Australia as I have an Australian adaptor for it too.

Packing cubes – These are a godsend! Even though they look small, they can hold a lot of clothing. In case you’ve never heard of them, here is a link to them on amazon

Waterproof bag – If, like me, you enjoy a bit of snorkelling, swimming or going on a boat, a waterproof bag is a good investment. As well as keeping everything dry, if you take them in the water with you, they act as a floating aid. You can see them here.

Mosquito repellent – on this trip, I am travelling to ‘at risk’ places such as the Panama Canal and some of the South Pacific Islands. Advice from some surgeries (this has been discussed at length on our Facebook group) are to take malaria tablets, but others have been advised to just use a repellent with ‘Deet’ in and to cover up. Because we will be leaving at around 4/5pm, we ‘shouldn’t’ have any problems as mozzies tend to come out in the evening. Of course, it is up to you what you do – I am not advising you either way!

Sunscreen (natural if going in sea – some affect the oceans) – Sunscreen is essential if you are, like me, very white and burn easily! The problem with sunscreen is that it is reported that sunscreen is responsible for bleaching Coral because of Oxybenzone (a detailed article from the Guardian is here). If you are aware of this and you want to swim but not to cause any damage to the sea, there are ways to do this. When I swim in the sea, I tend to wear swim leggings and a rash top (I purchased mine from Coolibar in the USA) and also swim shoes. The only bit exposed is my face, so I always search for a sea friendly brand of sunscreen – there are plenty out there, just search the internet.

Travel blanket – I like to take a travel blanket – nice to have something familiar when travelling and, if on a cruise, it makes a good shawl to go onto the decks in the evening if you fancy popping out for a bit of fresh air.

Cable tidy bag – AI never know where to find my cables so invested in cable bag for all my cables and bits and pieces like batteries (for my cameras), selfie stick and mini tripod.

Torch – In my Facebook group, some people have advised to take a torch as, in the Cabins on Arcadia, the reading light is really low on the back of the bed so is not as effective as it has been designed to be. You also never know when you might need a light!

RFID purse for out and about – protect your credit cards and passport from being copied and fraudulently used. Some countries have prolific pickpockets and it has be know for people to carry a credit card machine around to capture wireless charging.

Travel WiFi dongle/hotspot hub – I managed to find a travel wifi hub which holds a sim card and is unlocked so can be used in any country. At the same time, I found a 24gb data sim from 3 (both on Amazon – the sim was cheaper on Amazon than buying direct from 3). I am hoping this will allow me internet access in port so that I can update my blog and Facebook page. I’m not sure how long it will last, but will report back.

Mini Air Humidifier – Again, another discussion in our World Cruise Facebook group was the dry air and trying to ensure our wellbeing (especially on a long cruise). This mini one had been used by someone in the group and was recommended. They suggested using it at night. You can purchase it with Amazon here.

Water bottle (metal) – With all the worry of pollution in our seas, I wanted to take a bottle with me so opted for a metal bottle rather than a plastic one. I purchased mine from Amazon. I purchased one similar to the one in this link.

I hope these ideas help you when packing for a long trip (particularly a cruise). The next blog will be when I start my holiday and leave Bristol to go to Southampton on 5th January.

If you have any suggestions for essential items for a cruise or holiday, please comment.

Northern Lights Cruise 2018

One of my bucket list items has always been to go and see the Northern Lights.  Norway was the choice for this trip and as 2018 is the year of my 45th birthday and my friend, Robyn’s, 50th, I decided to treat us to a cruise to see the lights (well, Bill, my husband) treated us really!  We were going 21st March and retuning 2nd April 2018.

We booked the cruise around 16 months in advance and I chose to book with P&O on the Oriana cruise ship.   I had joined the Facebook group for Oriana and watched group members share their experience of the ship and cruises.  From October 2017 until we left in March 2018, I watched with anticipation and excitement all the passengers who were doing cruises to see the Northern Lights.  They were all sharing these wonderful photos of the Northern Lights, which just added to the excitement.

Robyn and I travelled down to Southampton the night before and stayed in the Grand Harbour Hotel.  I had a bit of a tough time getting any food in the hotel due to being a gluten/lactose free vegetarian.  I managed to get a salad but snacked on some food that I had bought with me.  The following day we boarded Oriana around 1pm and had some lunch in the buffet area, shortly after we were able to go to our cabin.  I’d booked us an inside cabin.  Our cabin had two single beds and a sofa, a bathroom with a shower and there was plenty of cupboard space.  At 4pm, we went to our muster point (details of this are in your room and on your key card) which is compulsory as it details what to do in an emergency.  We then went to the sail away party at the aft (back) of the ship and watched Southampton disappear into the night.  We then had two sea days until we reached our first port, Andalsnes.

Andalsnes, Norway

We docked in Andalsnes in the morning and had an whole day to explore. We decided to take the morning to look around and had an excursion booked for the afternoon.

We left Oriana and proceeded to the Town centre.  Oriana docked in the middle of town so

as soon as you were off the ship, you could look around the small town.  There were some shops and an information centre (which is for climbers as we were very close to the Troll Wall).  As you can see from the image, Oriana is quite a big ship, although she is classed as a medium sized ship.


After lunch we walked to the bus to have our tour.  The tour was going to see the Stave Church (see photo left). The Rødven Stave Church, now the property of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments, dates back to 1300 and is still located on its original site.   It was a fascinating church and had a men and ladies entrance.  It was cold inside!

This is the new church just opposite the Rodven Stave Church

After a quick toilet break (there was a small block of toilets next to the Stave Church), we were back on the bus and heading to our next stop at the Troll Wall.

Part of the towering Troll Wall, Noway

Trollveggen (Troll Wall), with its 3,300 foot vertical and overhanging wall is Europe’s highest perpendicular rock face.  As you can see from the image above, it was quite striking.  The wall was both sides of the road.  After a short stop here, it was time to head back to the ship to leave for our next port.  We had another sea day before we would get to Tromso.

Leaving Andalsnes and heading to Tromso

We had one sea day on the way to Tromso.  It was a bit blowy but relatively calm.  Ships have lots of things to do on sea days such as quizzes, films in the cinema, shows, talks, hobby classes and much more but you can also walk around the prom (not all ships have a prom deck though) or sit and read in the Crows nest.  Every evening, we received ‘The Horizon’ which detailed what activities were taking place the following day with the time and location.  There is also a spa on board offering all kinds of treatments and also a gym.  There was also the opportunity to attend Pilates and other fitness classes – you probably need to do something active especially as food is available 24 hours a day!!

During the night (well, 2am!) on route to Tromso, there was an in cabin announcement from the bridge that the Northern Lights had been spotted at the front of the ship.  Unfortunately, by the time we had got dressed in our layers and got to the front of the ship, they were gone, BUT, some people had gone to the back of the ship and saw the lights.  Tromso would be the next opportunity to see them.

Robyn looking wind swept on the prom of Oriana

Tromso, Norway

After a lovely day at sea, we docked in Tromso and it was snowing!  Nice in one way (at least all those expensive warm clothes got put to use) but also because snow means cloud and cloud means no clear skies and you need clear skies to see the Northern Lights!  We had booked a trip independently to go dog sledding as we felt that there was better value for money for this trip when compared to others on offer and, as we were in port overnight, we weren’t constrained to getting back to the ship by evening and worrying about the ship leaving without us.  Due to a storm hitting, we were late getting into port so were worried we would miss the trip completely.  Thankfully, they waited for us as there were half a dozen of us from the ship that had booked with the same company.  Once off the ship, we got the courtesy bus into Tromso which dropped us off opposite the hotel where we were being collected for our excursion, which was handy!   We had a pleasant ride to the dog sledding venue.

Entrance to the Dog Sledding Camp.  

We booked through a tour company called Get Your Guide, but the actual company the booking was through was www.villmarkssenter.no.  On their website you can also book self drive husky sledding,  which some people on our group had booked and loved it.  The cruise line didn’t offer that as an excursion.  After the sledding, they offered food in one of their tents but due to my diet, it wasn’t suitable for me.  They offer a drink, meat soup and a vegetarian option.  We were then allowed to go and meet the dogs and puppies and have a cuddle.  The puppies do like to steal things so be careful!

After having a cuddle with the dogs, we were back on the coach and heading back to Tromso.   It was snowing but all transport was operating (not like the UK, where a bit of snow brings us to a standstill!).  We had a look around Tromso before heading back to the ship. 

Alta, Norway

After a short time at sea (the same day we left Tromso), we reached Alta.  Alta lies well above the Arctic Circle at 70 degrees north latitude. A small town of just 20,000, it is the biggest city in the vast wilderness of Finnmark County.  We decided to book a tour in Alta and it included visiting a museum, the Northern Lights Cathedral, slate mine and a husky farm. 

We boarded the coach and headed to the museum which was awarded European Museum of the Year in 1993. It houses historical exhibitions depicting the ancient Komsa Culture, the old Market Place in Bossekop, the Northern Lights, military history, local history and a fine collection of Sami costumes and household implements.  After that it was onto the Cathedral.

The striking architecture of Alta’s incredible Northern Lights Cathedral splits opinion, but everyone loves the interior. It might look like a factory (some say crematorium!) from the outside, but step inside this northern lights inspired church in northern Norway and it really leaves an impression.  Just outside was a display of beautifully carved ice sculptures.  They were absolutely breathtaking.

Inside the Northern Lights Cathedral

Here is a photo from the inside of the Cathedral – it was something to behold! The floor, chairs and mouldings are all made of oak. The vertical moulding strips with LED lights behind them create an impressive visual effect, a warm atmosphere, and help with the acoustics .  We were told that the because of the acoustics, singing in the cathedral draws in a crowd.

After leaving the cathedral we drove to the slate mine.  Within the slate mine, they showed us how they cut the slate out and divided it up ready to either turn it in to roof tiles or get creative making door signs.  We then made our way to the Husky farm.  We had a lovely  young girl present a talk to us about the dogs and what they do.  The place we visited was a family run farm and they often race their huskies in competitions.  The huskies we  met seemed to be happy and were living in similar conditions to the ones we saw in Tromso.

Lovely selfie of me with one of the dogs (turns out I had bronchitis so was a little under the weather)

Shortly after leaving the husky farm we saw a family of Elk crossing the road – apparently a very rare occurrence and our tour guide was extremely excited.

Alta Church (Norwegian: Alta kirke)

Our next stop was at a small church in Alta, which in the fading sun and white snow looked stunning.  It was then time to head back to the ship for dinner and to see if those elusive Northern Lights would make an appearance tonight!

Leaving Alta and the Artic Circle in our wake heading to Stavanger

Again, we stayed up until the early hours of 2am and no sight of the Northern Lights.  The next day when we got up we were well on our way to our last port of Stavanger.  One more sea day before we get there.  We were advised that we probably would not see the Northern Lights after leaving Stavanger, so even though we were disappointed at not seeing the Northern Lights, we’d had a fantastic trip.  I decided that I will have to book again but maybe October-February time rather than late March.

Getting nearer to Stavanger and seeing such lovely scenery

Stavanger

On waking we were in Stavanger.  I have to admit, I didn’t see very much as I was feeling unwell.  A trip to the ship doctor confirmed I had bronchitis. I started treatment and in the afternoon, I managed a short walk around the town.  Famed for its many natural attractions and old wooden houses, the Stavanger region is on the radar of nearly every visitor to Norway.   Stavanger is both a university city and Europe’s oil and energy capital. Many different nationalities are attracted to the region, making it a highly international destination. 

On leaving Stavanger, we had one more sea day before getting back to Southampton.  I was expecting an eventful day as the last time I crossed the North Sea returning from Oslo, it was force 12 and a very rough 2 day trip!  The sea from Stavanger was as smooth as a millpond!

Sun Setting on our last night before docking and disembarking at Southampton

Both Robyn and I loved the trip overall and was extremely happy that P&O looked after my dietary needs and was able to cook everything that was available on the menu, but changed to gluten/lactose free vegetarian.  This is a request that you have to make at the time of booking.   If you are interested in looking for a Northern Lights cruise or holiday (lights not guaranteed) please feel free to contact me on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/travelwithjc/ and I will be happy to research a holiday to suit your needs.

Australia 2017

In September 2017, my son, Sam, and I embarked on a trip to Australia that I had planned and booked everything myself (this was the time when I started to really think that I would love to book travel for other people).  The trip started with a two night stay in Perth which I hoped would give us chance to get over our jetlag before we embarked on our 4 day trip across Australia on the Indian Pacific Train which started in Perth and ended in Sydney.  

Indian Pacific Route from Perth to Sydney

We left Perth behind and had a lovely lunch and dinner on board the Indian Pacific.  First stop that evening is the wild west town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, home to the staggering 3.6km wide Super Pit – an open-cut gold mine that has yielded riches 24 hours a day since 1989.  There was an opportunity to visit the gold mine.  Excursions are included along with as much alcohol that you want to consume.

Waking up the following day and looking out the window, all the lush green had gone and all you could see was brown barren land.  We were on the Nullarbor Plain.  The Nullarbor Plain  is part of the area of flat, almost treeless, and semi-arid country of southern Australia. Its located on the Great Australian Bight coast and the Great Victoria Desert to its North.

The following day, we arrived at Adelaide where we had a few hours to explore (or go on an excursion).  Just before lunch we were back on the train heading to our next stop.

Broken Hill is one of Australia’s legendary Outback bases defined by its wide streets, country pubs and ties with the Royal Flying Doctors Service and School of the Air. Here, you can visit the late Pro Hart’s art studio or head for the Miners’ Memorial where the stark reality of working in Broken Hill’s mines over the ages is writ large. The striking architectural edifice and spectacular view over the city add emotional weight to the list of more than 800 miners who lost their lives on the job.

The following morning, we were then slowly making our way through the Blue Mountains to our final destination of Sydney (I have noticed that the Indian Pacific now (2018) stops in the Blue Mountains to give you chance to explore, which is a nice touch).

We spent three days in Sydney exploring.  I’m not going to talk too much about Sydney as on my next trip, I am spending lots of time there and will share my experience with you.

Our next stop was Cairns where we went off on a boat to stay for 2 nights and to give us a chance to explore the Great Barrier Reef.  The ride out to the main boat was a bit choppy and I ended up a bit wet from the sea.  Sam decided he wanted to try scuba diving.  He managed two dives but on the first one he got an ear ache and on the second one he had a nose bleed and the ear ache was worst so he decided that scuba diving wasn’t for him.  I did a couple of snorkelling sessions, but found the sea very choppy.  On one of the trips out, I did see a turtle which was really exciting for me.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera so have no photos of it.

We spent another night in Cairns before flying to Brisbane.  We stayed with a friend of mine for a couple weeks in her fabulous home before flying home to the UK.