Thursday, 31 May 2012

Thomson Celebration 2012

A quick look at some of the areas on the ship. Note that this article shows the ship as it was in 2012. I'm hoping this will stay online for a few years so, as ships regularly undergo refurbishment, it may not necessarily show the ship as it may currently be.

A look at our cabin - 014 on Deck 9. There's a fridge, a TV - you're on holiday, what do you want a telly for??? Electrical sockets available are European round pin and US flat pin. Use the European ones in preference as the voltage is closer to that of the UK.

Horizons Bar. This is on Deck Nine, right at the front of the ship. Directly over the Bridge in fact so you get spectacular sea views from here whilst the ship is at sea in daylight. At night it is a cabaret bar and very popular. During most afternoons you can sit here with a glass of something, reading or simply joining in the gentle chorus of snores, people jumping as their partners nudge them, shouts of "Agh! What?" and fierce whispers of "You were snoring!".

There's an old nautical binnacle too, by the windows in the centre of the ship so you can play at being a salty dog...! Miss Franny decides to just sit and peruse the cocktail menu though...

The Explorers' Lounge. There is no bar in this one so it tends to be a quieter place to sit and doze or relax during the afternoons. It contains a piano and the entertainment (mainly during the evening) tends to be a little more classical than jaunty.

The Explorers' Lounge leads in to the Browsers' Corner, Deck 5 forward. You can pay for Internet access, but it is very slow and if you really can't take a break from your equipment even whilst on holiday, your best bet is to take a mobile device and follow the crew when the ship docks as they will know where the best free wi-fi is.

Also in this area you will find a small library. All they ask is that you don't take books home...

Destinations Services on Deck 5 is where you can book your excursion tickets. The morning after you join the ship there will be a presentation in the theatre showing videos of the places the ship will visit during the week. Each tour will be described and a raffle held for those who sit through the presentation to win free places on a tour. If there is a tour you particularly want to go on though, get it booked as early as possible as places can be limited and for the big famous sites there will be a lot of demand. The Destinations Services desk has a "drop-off box" where you can leave booking forms 24 hours a day if the desk itself is not open. If you rush out of your cabin at 3:00 in the morning, don't forget to take your room key...

Broad Street - the shopping area on Deck 5. Yes, there's a lot goes on along the length of Deck 5! The ship's shops shape for shoppers only when the ship is at sea. When you are in a port the locals like to think you will visit their shops. But they will be open every night as soon as you leave the port and all day on your day at sea. Each night will see themed special promotions with discounts. One night, jewellery and watches, another night perfume and aftershave, another night cigs and alcohol etc.

There's also a small shop that sells such things as toiletry items, suntan lotion and antacid medicines in case you might overdo things a little!

The place where you might over-indulge! This is the Main Dining Room, waiter service throughout. A self-service dining room is also available.

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Bosphorus River Cruise

Wednesday 23 May 2012. We have crossed the Golden Horn into the old part of Istanbul where we board - by means of some ricketty steps - a river boat that will take us for a cruise on the Bosphorus.

Miss Franny getting settled on the hard wooden bench that was our seating - not a single cushion in sight! Are we daunted? Yes we are a little...

I had to presume that the skipper was well used to taking his boat under the Galata Bridge across the Golden Horn as the bridge structure missed the deck mast and string of lights by mere inches! Here a couple of passengers look round back at the bridge as if to say "How on earth did we miss?!?"

We pass the Thomson Celebration moored at the dock and marvel at its ability to remain motionless on water. Our little tour boat is weaving figures of eight. As the drink leaves the glass of the chap near the front of the boat, it is drunk by a woman at the back as she passes beneath its arc...

This is one of several palaces built by Sultans in the past. They are all pretty spectacular and they all had room for a few of his harem - hey but where's the harem in that I ask?

A closer look at this spectacular bijou little home from home...

The Ciragan Palace is another case in point. The Sultan had four palaces, one for each season and a girl for each hair on his head. Now I am almost totally bald, but even so... All I can think is that there must have been some pretty bored girls, or a lot more hanky-panky making the eunuchs rich from bribery than the Sultan would have liked!

We reach the first bridge that crosses the Bosphorus from Europe to Asia. This is the Bosphorus Bridge, built in the 1970s and the first bridge to cross between Europe and Asia since a pontoon bridge, made by parking boats side by side, allowed Xerxes I of Persia to march his army across the Dardanelles in 480 BC. Sitting almost underneath the bridge is a weather-boarded house under restoration.

As we approach the next bridge where we will turn round to come back, we come to Rumeli Castle on the European side, built by the invading Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (1432–1481) in just four months from 1451-1452 to prevent the besieged Constantinople (as the city was then called) from receiving aid from the Black Sea.

The skipper takes the opportunity to do a U-turn in the river at this point. Right under the nose of the impressively large Minerva Astra which sounded a warning horn at us. Though we were across before there was any danger of collision, the sight of this huge ship bearing down on us made me wonder how much of the tour boat would be left had his engines stalled at that moment...

Which then prompted me to remember that this river was the site of the legend of the clashing rocks which made it impassable to ships until Jason and his Argonauts managed to pass between them, upon which they ceased to clash and became rooted in a fixed position.

I looked again at my glass. What was this stuff...?

So now we are on the Asian bank of the river and heading back towards the Golden Horn. There are some very impressive buildings along this bank. We were told that many millionaires live in this area.

Opposite the Kumeli Castle is the Anatolian Castle on the Asian side. Built between 1393 and 1394 by Sultan Bayezid I.

The Kuleli Military School has now dropped the "military" part of its name. It was converted to a hospital during several wars before the students were allowed back in and we were told that Florence Nightingale carried her lamp up and down it during the Crimean War. I haven't been able to find evidence to back this up, however. If anyone knows for sure, leave a comment.

We arrive back at our starting point and one chap is moved to wave to the lucky people on Thomson Celebration whose bums are not a series of parallel indented lines...

We take our leave of the ship by the same ricketty stairs and the bus takes us back to our cruise ship. On the way we pass a bus station, quite crowded and with buses of every colour. I chose a blue one to show you!

As we came back over the Galata Bridge I noticed that for the whole of its length the parapet was home to fishermen. Whether for pleasure or for dinner I'm not sure!

And to finish with, a shot of a tram heading back towards Galata Bridge after we had crossed it.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Ancient Wonders Cruise

We're back now, did you miss us? It's been a rare old busy time of late. I've been approaching the deadline for the book on Blackpool and we had a holiday booked which meant I had to buckle down and get it finished before we could go off enjoying ourselves!

I'm glad to say the book, a look at the Blackpool of the Victorians and Edwardians through their postcards, compared with modern views of Blackpool taken by yours truly from as close to the original viewpoint as I could manage has been written and photographed and packaged off to the publishers. More news as and when, but the book to be called "Blackpool: Then and Now" and written by John D Burke (to differentiate myself from the chap who wrote so many excellent TV and film scripts and spin-off books) is due to be in the shops for Christmas. Let me be the first to wish you a merry one...!

So with the book contents finished I could settle back to enjoy the holiday - a cruise on the Thomson Celebration starting in Marmaris, Turkey and taking in Istanbul, Lesbos, Kusadasi, Piraes for Athens, Mykonos and back to Marmaris again. The tour was called Ancient Wonders, hopefully not in honour of us, but describing the places we were to see...

And to make it even more special, our friends Tomas and Maris were aboard, performing as 2Intense in the Horizons bar above the bridge of the ship. We've kept in touch with them since we first met on the ship a few years ago and had been eagerly anticipating meeting up with them again.

The flights to Dalaman and transfer to the ship were negotiated without any mishap and we spent our first full day at sea, getting used to a life revolving around food and drink... bliss...

On 23 May we arrived in Istanbul, a rather overcast but warm Istanbul.

At one side of the ship the Bosphorus was a source of entertainment as the many small tour boats and ferries dodge around some very large cruise ships and cargo ships.

Some were rocking about quite merrily, making us exchange early morning glances as we had booked a tour along the river on one of these small craft! We decided to prepare for it and headed into the self-service restaurant for fruit followed by bacon, eggs, beans, croissants, washed down by a couple of mugs of coffee.

The view from the other side of the ship was of the more modern city. So, here we were in a crowded street with passengers from three other cruise ships coming out the same port authority door and waiting for excursion coaches. Our coach arrived to take us across the river to our excursion boat.

On the river the cormorants are gathering to watch our antics so keep tuned and the next entry will tell the tale of the river cruise. No whitewash...

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Friday, 18 May 2012

Witton Park 2012

Last Sunday saw us back in the courtyard at Witton Park in Blackburn for their annual fun day in conjunction with Myerscough College. The event included a collection of classic cars, some of which made me come over all nostalgic!

I worked out it was our 7th year at Witton! We first went to that same event to play in 2006.

And 2012 was a stand-out year. The weather was excellent - all sunshine and not a spot of rain. The chairs laid out for the audience were filled all day long - they were full when we got there with people waiting for us to arrive! We had a great day and unleashed a sprinkling of new songs into the mix including one of David's current favourites - Elvis's "You Gave Me a Mountain".

Our thanks go to Witton Park, Blackburn Council, Myerscough College, Miss Franny and Miss Jeannie our faithful roadies and minders, and of course all those wonderful people in the audience!

Photos courtesy of Jeannie Lancaster

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Abingdon St Market Refurbishment Reveals a Bit of History

In town yesterday to take a few more photos for the forthcoming Blackpool book. It was a bit of a mixed day with ten minutes bright sunshine then ten minutes torrential downpour followed by ten minutes bright sunshine followed by...

The market on Abingdon Street, seen above in November 2011, has been going through the throes of refurbishment for a while. There has been scaffolding and workmen and it is starting to emerge, cleaner and back to its mock Tudor black and white excellence.

A new front at ground floor level will see new windows installed and new doors leading into the market which is well used by locals as well as visitors.

Currently it still looks a bit chaotic, though the market remains open to shoppers. However I noticed that the cladding around the entrance has been removed in preparation for the new frontage and a long-lost sign has appeared.

Built in 1862, the building was originally the town's Police Station. Apparently cells still exist in the basement. It had space for horses and vehicles by way of a large entrance and following the end of its life as the Police Station, operated as a motor garage for a period (see below) before becoming a market in 1928.

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