Sunday, 30 June 2013

Fylde Farm Weekend, 2013

Last night we played out at Treales for the Fylde Farm Weekend. As we turned onto the field and tried to spot the marquee we had to admit that it looked a lot larger show than in previous years.

As I walked past one of the food stalls, the owner calls out: "Creeping Bentgrass?" I nod and pause to chat. "You're one of my favourite bands!" he says. A good start to the night!

The stage area last year was laid on the grass, but this year we are on a raised platform. Although it still didn't have a curving staircase for us to make an entrance on...

Four and a half hours of non-stop music making later... What a brilliant night, thanks so much to the organisers and to all who came to listen, to sing along, to hand jive or get up to dance.

Villefranche, an Unexpected Port of Call

Thursday 23 May 2013. Due to bad weather further west we have swapped a day in St Raphael for a day in Villefranche.

David's longed for moment comes when we have to take the tender boats into the town. "Liberty guys to glamorize!" Hmmm... yes, he's been quoting this bit of Americanese all week. Apparently the Americans call tender boats Liberty boats and when David was in the navy and his ship was stationed in America anyone going ashore on the American naval vessel moored alongside was warned departure was imminent by this phrase over their tannoy. Stick fingers in throat to be sick... We are six days into the cruise and it has been uttered so many times that it is now greeted with groans...

Bienvenue a France! Villefranche presents a wonderful face to tourists approaching by boat. The brightly coloured buildings and an old fortress out of shot to the left make a typical French Riviera dream come true.

We moor up on the wharf and clamber up the few steps out of the boat before walking through the port authority buildings and onto French soil. We had waited until all the formal excursions had gone and our boat wasn't crowded at all. Even so it's still only mid morning and we have plenty of time to explore.

Called the Hidden Street, this enclosed street always reminds me somehow of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. All the doors and windows are very heavily barred and old lanterns, but with modern electric bulbs, cast a suitably gloomy light so that you can easily imagine eyes peeping out to see if it's safe! It runs parallel to the sea front but isn't apparent from looking up the streets off the sea front.

We come out onto a path with a view over the lowest buildings onto the bay. To our left the path leads to the railway station. By looking right we are looking out of the bay towards the Mediterranean. Fran takes a last glance before we move on and there's a grunt of surprise from David, who has looked up to see someone working on the roof of a house abseiling down towards his head! The grunt, of course, is swiftly followed by the click of his camera...

Here we are at the far end of the bay looking directly out to sea where the Thomson Dream is moored. Another ship is coming in and turns to moor up in front of our ship. Time for "quatre cafes - un petit peu de cafe et beaucoup de lait"...

And whilst we are in the cafe and the coffee is cooling, the sketchpad comes out for a quick doodle of the seafront. I don't finish it yet so we'll have a look later...

The coffee having run out we set off back down the sea front, with the tables from cafe bars across the street lined up with colourful yellow awnings. A drunken boatman lurches onto the dockside and shouts angrily at his dog, scaring the life out of a poor woman who was sitting on the edge of the sea wall close to his boat.

A bit of time goes by. Wine time! We take a seat in another cafe bar. Unfortunately the waiter who serves us is not as nimble as he might be and he drops a dish of olives all over Fran, insisting on a remedy that involves emptying a salt pot all over her and bringing her a dish of hot water to dab on her top... Miss Franny retains her cool and just merely smacks him around a bit before deciding she is not splashing herself with hot water except for that which is necessary to remove all the salt that he's chucked over her.

Once decorum and wine has been established, I finish off the drawing I started earlier in the other cafe. A woman on the next table is admiring it.
"It was nearly finished when I bought it..." I say, which makes her laugh. Her husband smiles politely and her mother chokes on a prawn and has to be banged on the back. Miss Franny throws salt over her just in case... Oh alright... I made that bit up...

The ladies want to look round the shops and market so David and I wander off to see what mischief we can get up to. A lady in a gorgeous Spanish flamenco dress walks past - I only had time for a rear view, but apparently she was seen later by the ladies, dancing in one of the narrow streets as a street entertainer.

"Would you take our photo please?" comes a musical voice and I turn to see three young and very pretty American girls. They have come in on the other cruise ship which came in as we had our coffee. They were from Washington DC and were happily ignoring the advice of many of their friends who had apparently seen some Liam Neeson film called Taken about an American girl kidnapped by us devious and despicable Europeans.

We go for a look at the fortress and meet up with some fellow passengers from the Thomson Dream - seen here resting in the bay. We oblige them by taking their photo - hang on, we're turning into walkie-snaps here! Then we head down the hill from the fortress to walk alongside the fortress wall.

As we pass, the tender boats from the girls' ship, which we saw earlier, are now sharing space on the dock with ours. Passengers are making their way up the fairly steep hill towards the excursion coaches. The crystal clear water gurgles over the rocks at the foot of the path and it's a very pleasant walk before we realise that we've been quite a while and the ladies are probably wondering where we are. (They weren't - they were too busy looking at fridge magnets...)

We head back and find them loaded down with bags of thimbles, spoons with ceramic souvenir heads, fridge magnets and the odd snow globe. Then we head back to the tender boats for our trip back to the Thomson Dream.

A good time was had by all! "Liberty guys to glamorize...!" Yes, yes, yes David...

Highlights of The Mediterranean Cruise Index

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Car Club Gig

On Saturday 22 June 2013 we were out at the Coast Riders Cafe on Marton Moss, Blackpool playing for a car club.

We got there a bit early as the cars were being judged and I wanted a few photos. This MG ended up with the top trophy for the night.

A Jowett Javelin sports car - no, I don't remember them either...

I do remember the Consul Classic though! This Ford was the first British car with twin headlamps that I remember. I nearly bought one for £65 when I was 17 but in the end bought a chunky Hillman Minx for £40 instead - cheapskate!

And had I taken the blue guitar that night, this rather scrummy Jag E-Type would have just matched it!!!

But I had the red one with me instead...

And one to match the scratch plate!

Oh yes... and we played a bit of music as well...!

Should That Be Leaning Like That?

Wednesday 22 May 2013. Having cruised around Puccini's lake, we pile onto the coach and after a short drive get off again on a huge expanse of concrete and tarmac that the Italians lovingly call Pisa Bus Station.

Fifteen minutes walk takes us to Miracle Square, where we find the Baptistry, the Basilica and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It's one of those places in the world where every step you take you find some African trying to sell you some tat, ignoring the fact that you've waved away or ignored at least ten of his or her fellow peddlers whilst he or she has been approaching you...

Why does it not fall over...? Anyway the Tower is not the only bit of history in the square of course. Galileo sat bored to death in the cathedral once watching the swinging of the chandelier and realised that no matter how far it swung, it took the same time to reach from one extreme to the other. He gave a whistle of amazement, liked the sound and invented the cuckoo clock. Able to turn his hand to anything, he later climbed up the Leaning Tower and repeatedly dropped apples onto Sir Isaac Newton...

We introduced Miss Jeannie to the delights of Granitas, more romantically known as slush to us Brits. David settled for a coke which wasn't as inclined to squash and spill, meaning he didn't have to interrupt his photography until he had finished drinking...

Then after an hour or so of sunburn, we started along the row of souvenir stalls which led back towards the coach excursion meeting point. Ah, how unusual! A fridge magnet!!!

Out of the four of us I'm sure you can guess who got fed up of the souvenir shops the quickest? Yes indeed. The clicky-monster and I headed off on a more direct route to the meeting point. Or to be more precise, to a bar and pavement cafe close by the meeting point.

Once the ladies had joined us and we met up with the rest of the group and fended off another set of Africans - "No thanks I don't want a Leaning Tower tea towel, or a native drum..." - we set off walking back to the bus station. There was one chap I didn't recognise and having fallen (as you do if you're anything like me) into conversation with him, it turned out he was from another ship and had taken a bus to Pisa from Livorno and had forgotten where the bus station was so had tagged onto our group as he knew from our language we would be heading for the same place as he was! The bus station was so huge that he was still walking towards the public bus service section as we passed him on our coach.

Back onboard the Thomson Dream we learn that tomorrow's itinerer... Itinni... stuff we are doing has changed. We were due to go to St Raphael near St Tropez in France but there's some rough weather that way and instead we are to call at Villefranche between Nice and Monaco. Miss Franny and I have been there before but are delighted to get a chance to show David and Miss Jeannie as it's a lovely place.

We go to watch the show that night and then stay in the show lounge to watch the crew members' show. One of the bar staff, a tiny girl from the Philippines has a very creditable stab at Puccini's Oh Mio Babbino Caro and there was a very good street dance troupe, who Miss Jeannie collared for a photo, together with one of the waiters from the restaurant, far left, who had chopped up a few boards to kindling for the ship's furnaces.

Highlights of The Mediterranean Cruise Index

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Puccini's House and Lake

Wednesday 22 May 2013. Sheesh, it's a month ago and I'm still working on the photos and blog entries! I've been a bit busy of late...

Anyway on this bright Wednesday morning we jump ship at Livorno Italy and board a coach for our only paid excursion of the week. We are heading firstly for the house and lake of Giacomo Puccini, he of opera fame.

He loved this spot and lived in this house just a few yards from the lake. The house is now a museum and photographs inside were not allowed. As we listened to the guide's commentary in the first room a huge cat jumped up on the table causing all of us to jump momentarily.

Looking from the house down to the lake. There was a room with a huge collection of guns. Apparently one of the reasons he moved here was to do his best to rid the lake of wildfowl... It was a different time and a different world and today it is hard to think of a man who could compose such beautiful arias for operas such as Tosca, La Boheme and Madame Butterfly, happily grabbing a gun and blasting away destroying life...

Having done the tour of the house, we drift down to the lake as part of the tour is a trip on the lake by boat with Puccini's music played - and to give a touch of authenticity a chap in costume shoots at us from the shore. ...ok, I made that last bit up...

In the background of the above photo is a corner of the huge arena where operas are staged. There was a signboard listing upcoming performances.

Ah... and chill... We are some of the last on board and Fran and I are sat right at the back of the launch that takes us on the lake, whilst David and Jeannie are sitting in front of us. We are too far from the boat's speaker system to hear the music properly...

But never mind, the lake trip includes a glass of wine and nibbles! Here is Vanessa, guide for the quaintly named Trumpy Tours, bringing round little plastic cups of (yikes) very sweet sherry-type wine and some small hard biscuits that are a danger to teeth unless dunked in aforesaid wine for several minutes to soften them up!

Fran brandishes her biscuit threateningly. The lake trip sets off down a sort of lane separated from the rest of the lake by a row of small islands and then turns onto the lake itself once well away from the shores. What shores? I'll have another of those little cups please...

We are a long way from them, but the Italian Alps catch the sun (as do we all!) and make a wonderful backdrop to a pleasantly relaxing spell.

Then all too soon we are back on dry land and back on the coach for the second of our two destinations this morning - Pisa. Next stop here we come...

Highlights of The Mediterranean Cruise Index

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Myerscough College Open Day 2013

Sunday 9 June saw us at Myerscough College, performing at their Open Day for the twelfth year running.

We were both suffering a little from sore throats - we stayed away from the more raucous stuff until much later in the afternoon when we seemed to have powered through and all the symptoms disappeared!

The college has carried out a bit of building since last year and we were in a different place than usual, away from the stream of people walking to and from the car park. But people seemed to find us easily enough, including three ex-colleagues from 20 years ago when I worked at Preston College.

The sun was a bit fierce and I always forget that when playing a guitar the underside of my left arm is exposed. That was sore for a few days...

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Containment at Livorno Port

Wednesday 22 May 2013. Early morning once again and also once again David and Jeannie are up on deck well before we tumble up the steps to the Promenade Deck. By the time we get there we are well into the port. David has taken a good hundred photos of ships of all sorts and we are passing an empty row of dockside cranes.

Presumably the operator of the nearest crane does haircuts in his spare time...

We are moving very slowly and pass the Catharina Schulte which is being unloaded to our starboard side.

The photos hardly do her justice - she is huge. Each of those metal containers is a lorry load and they are stacked 12 across and up to six high. There are at least ten rows of the same from front to rear of the ship not counting the hold of the ship! So without counting what she carries inside there are 360 lorry loads stacked on the deck.

As we pass by, leaving the cranes behind on the opposite side a couple of hundred containers are waiting for a fleet of lorries to pick them up and take them to where they need to go.

Fran threads her way through the deck loungers. It's still early enough for the deck to be deserted yet. A few passengers are at breakfast, but the majority are being sensible and are still snoring...

This is the self-service counter breakfast bar. David has sneaked into the middle of the unsuspecting half-asleep passengers and snapped them in the midst of their jollity... We decided that self-service was much too common and descended a few decks to be waited upon!

Highlights of The Mediterranean Cruise Index

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Civitavecchia - Gateway to ... er Civitavecchia...

Tuesday 21 May 2013. The Thomson Dream sails into Civitavecchia - practice it - Si-vi-tav-ecky-a with the emphasis on the "eck".

Early morning before breakfast. David: "half past three, we've been up since!!!"
Jeannie: "No we haven't! Well whatever - they were up before us and this is still only around half past seven.

The captain is manoeuvring us into position. Carnival Sunshine is to the left in front of us with Aida Vita about to come past us on the starboard side. But... we're off to breakfast!

A lot of passengers are off on tours to Rome today but we have decided that we want to do Rome a little less frantically so a future trip for a few days is being talked about. Today we'll go for a wander round Civitavecchia - say it - Civitavecchia... very good...

Miss Franny and I have been here before once, but I only managed a wander round the outside of the fortress. Today we go in. A uniformed official comes out of a building and starts calling out, walking towards us purposefully.

"Should we not be here?" I ask. "No..." We go out again. Didn't want to look round the silly castle anyway...

In our defence I would note that David had said something like "Pose..." We had a wander up through the town, coming to a local market which felt all cultural and had some colourful displays of goods and fruit. It wasn't a touristy type place though so we made our way down to the sea front and walked for a little while.

I hadn't taken my camera out, only the sketch pad. The sea front was modern and tidy - but not jazzed up for tourists. I suppose the vast majority of cruisers arrive merely to step on a coach or train and head off for Rome. This took a whole ten minutes and another ten to finish off once back on the ship. And it's still crap...

The one attempt to brighten up the seafront was this huge statue based on the famous photo of an American sailor (David: how can you take anyone wearing a hat like that seriously..." kissing a girl at the end of WWII.

Sigh... oh alright I did a funny pose too... Several of the crew from the ship (well... a ship...) came down to do the same. Civitavecchia (go on... one last time...) Civitavecchia's main contribution to tourism.

Once back onboard Miss Franny tested the temperature of the jacuzzi. No... It wasn't switched on anyway... What, Miss Franny? Cold...? Yes it is isn't it?

Highlights of The Mediterranean Cruise Index