Posts Tagged ‘Bruges’

A quick weekend trip to Bruges and Saint Peter Port on the Aurora.

Podge and Tubbs had been to both Bruges, where it always seemed to rain on them, and Saint Peter Port but this cruise was a cruise with a different purpose.This cruise would elevate them to the top tier of P&Os loyalty scheme which would bring them extra perks. Such perks now included bigger discounts and, more importantly to The Duchess and His Podgeness, priority embarkation. And it started with this cruise. Oh how The Duchess enjoyed the privilege of being directed straight past all the waiting passengers and direct through to the ship for champagne and lunch.  Podge and Tubbs were well happy.

The Aurora

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It had been over 10 years since Podge and Tubbs had been on the Aurora and were looking forward to seeing her again, especially as they had been upgraded to a Mini-Suite. They weren’t sure however how she would be given her age: She had been in the service of P&O since 2000, so she was clearly built in the last Millennium.

Having boarded the ship, ahead of everybody else, eaten lunch and drunk copious amounts of champagne, The Duchess, closely followed (three paces behind) by His Podgeness made her way to their cabin, sorry, mini-suite, checking the emptiness of her ship on the way (this wouldn’t last). Oh how overjoyed was The Duchess as she surveyed her new empire. And what an empire it was with bedroom and separate sitting area, a lovely double sized balcony and a proper bathroom with his and her sinks. Better still, there was a bottle of champagne on ice waiting for them along with a nice box of chocolates. Pre-empting her command, Podge moved the chocolates into the fridge and opened the champagne and dutifully poured her a glass and of course a (slightly larger) glass for himself.

Irrespective of how many cruises one may have done, there is still the obligatory life boat drill that has to be conducted before every cruise, which must be attended by all passengers: This included His Podgeness and The Duchess. Neither of them enjoy the drill but they do at least recognise the importance and so with life vests in hand, they dutifully make their way to their allotted muster station and promptly fell asleep. Naughty Podge & Tubbs.Waking just in time to prove they knew how to don their life vests, Podge was informed that their next course of action was to return the vests to the cabin and explore the boat.

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Podge & Tubbs explored The Aurora, found the Crows Nest, a good place for G&T declared Tubbs, then moved on the The Anderson Bar, an excellent place for pre-dinner champagne declared Podge. The next find was the Gym – “This is not a good place” remarked Podge, “It looks painful, we should give this facility a miss” said Podge & Tubbs in unison. Although they are not pool people they still needed to know and appreciate the pool facilities: they were mightily impressed with the pools on The Aurora. Especially the one with the sliding roof (Crystal Pool) which guaranteed the right climate wherever in the world one might be. This was further enhanced by the provision of a fast food bar with all the sort of food that Podge loved and adored but which Tubbs forbids. Poor Podge.

Lastly, they found the Pennant Bar: This was the bar for the obligatory fivesies (Wine at 5, or 4, or 6, whatever time suited:-) ). They tried it out, the wine was good, the bar and surrounds were good. The temperature was cold. They ordered more wine and returned to their cabin where they relaxed and watched the world go by as they sailed out of Southampton, passing Calshot, Cowes & Ryde on the Starboard side with Lee-on-the-Solent, Gosport and Portsmouth on the Port Side. Podge always liked this bit. Podge was happy and if Podge was happy, then Tubbs was also happy: Podge & Tubbs were a happy and content couple.

Next Stop, Zeebrugge then Knokke.

Bruges was the official port of call, even though it isn’t actually a Port! Podge & Tubbs however have been to Bruges so many times now that they decided to give it a miss this time. One alternate option was a trip to Ghent but this had already been done as well. Very, very briefly, they considered the old folks option of a coach trip just to view the surrounding countryside and sample chocolate and beer. Much as the chocolate and beer had their attractions, the thought of being part of the Old Folk Brigade caused them to regain sense. Then they saw a trip to Knokke calling at Damme (formerly the port for Bruges in the 13th century) on the way. Damme was in fact quite a picturesque little port with coffee shops, museums and a fab church.

The visit coincided with an arts festival with numerous statues placed in and around the church grounds and two itself. After gazing a little too long at the statues of naked women Tubbs decided that it was time to take Podge to a little cafe for a coffee and biscuit, lest he got too excited. Begrudgingly, Podge followed on dragging his heels and sulking: he wanted to stay with the statues. Podge is a sad man.

Eventually, having sated their thirst, they slowly made their way back to the coach for the second half of their excursion to Knokke, billed as the playground for those with an above average standard of living.

The journey wasn’t too long and in no time at all they were making their way through the outskirts of town and ultimately onto the main drag close to the beach: Today however was not beach weather so shops & shopping was to be order of the day. The main objective was to get a birthday present for young Matthew. He wanted a watch, they knew that, but what watch. They needed inspiration so what better place to get inspiration for buying a watch than to visit shoe shop after shoe shop until eventually they found a shoe shop that had some shoes that met with the approval of The Duchess and matched the contents of the wallet of His Podgeness. Shoes purchased, inspiration must surely follow.

It was Podge who was most inspired and not just by the rather fetching young lady behind the counter of a watch shop (always a good place to look for watches) but by the fact that they sold Festina watches: Festina used to be the official timekeeper for the Tour de France so would, Podge assured Tubbs, be perfect for Matt ‘The Cyclist’. It also meant that Podge got to spend a little more ‘quality time’ with the young lady behind the counter (Podge is so naughty).

So, watch purchased, shoes purchased, fridge magnet purchased (of course), Podge and Tubbs returned to the Pink Fountain where they had been instructed to wait for the bus that was to take them back The Aurora.

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Pink Water Fountain – Just For The Duchess

Bet you can’t guess what Podge and Tubbs did when they got back to The Aurora. Yep, that’s right, they went for fivesies (fivesies are early evening drinks, normally but not always, wine that is often had at 5 pm, or 4 pm, or 6 pm – fivesies are flexible) and something to eat. And, despite the weather, Tubbs insisted they she wanted to eat, and drink of course, ‘Al Fresco’.

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I’m on a Cruise Ship, I will eat Al Fresco

This didn’t last long, Tubbs eventually admitted she was cold and they went back to their Cabin, sorry Suite,  to prepare for the evening festivities as The Aurora sailed to Saint Peter Port, a place Podge & Tubbs had no intention of visiting. Why? Because reaching Saint Peter Port would mean tendering and Podge hates tendering (see https://podgethepuffer.com/2014/04/06/bali-the-land-of-mystery/ for why).

The morning brought apparently calm seas and Podge & Tubbs were almost tempted to ‘give it a go’ and take the the tender to shore but the prospect of a late leisurely breakfast and the use of the ship almost exclusively while everybody was ashore was too great a draw to sway them. They were staying put. And, as it turned out, the decision was a good one. As His Podgeness sat upon the balcony watching the Tender boats (Survival Craft!) to’ing and fro’ing he noted that one of them had returned, engine faltering, to the mother ship Aurora. ‘That’s not good’ thought Podge. They were now one craft down so transfers would take longer. It also transpired later in the day that due to harbour traffic, there were further delays which meant that it was well past lunch before everybody had managed to get ashore. Podge & Tubbs would not have been happy. Podge and Tubbs were happy. They had elected to stay on board. How smug were Podge and Tubbs!

The remainder of the day went pretty much as planned, with Podge & Tubbs enjoying the relatively spacious and empty bars, etc. They even managed to enjoy three’sies, four’sies, five’sies and six’sies before finally packing (there wasn’t actually a lot to pack. Even by The Duchess’s standards, three cases for a three night weekend break was travelling light. Then, it was time for dinner and post dinner drinks before retiring back to their cabin, sorry, suite, knowing that they had an early start, to be sure that they were to disembark in good time so as to be sure they were back home before lunch. Podge however wiled away just one more hour on the balcony as the Aurora sailed for Southampton. He sat there listening to the sounds of the sea as the ship cut through the waves on her way home. He sat, sipping his secretly secured rather large Laphroaig and mused to himself with self contentment. They had done it. They had made Top Tier with P&O. Podge was a happy man and he knew Tubbs was also happy which meant that all was well in their world.  ‘Where next?’ he thought to himself. He knew the answer, it was to The Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights, with luck. But that was many months away, surely there was time to fit in another adventure. Podge hoped so, else Tubbs wouldn’t stay too happy for long. Podge’s next challenge was set.

Poor Podge.

Mrs Me and I had never been on the Azura. Why? Because she was a sister ship to the Ventura and we had the most terrible time on her first Christmas Cruise. No need to go into detail as it’s all water under the bridge 🙂 now. Just save to say  that there were way too many people on board that really didn’t know how to behave in public, even to the point of people being locked up on board and booted off the ship at the next available port. But at least we got the teddy. But we didn’t have the Azura Teddy. There was nothing for it, the Azura was next on our hit list 🙂 and wow, what a fab ship she turned out to be: we will be going again on the Azura; we may even give the Ventura a go!

Looking through the, well thumbed brochure, we saw the mini-cruise to Bruges (Belgium) and St. Peter Port (Guernsey)  which also had Alfie Boe on board as guest / star entertainer. A quick phone call to Mother-in-Law (she loves Alfie Boe) and the decision was made. The cruise was booked there and then. We booked it in December 2013 and so had 5-months to wait. Fortunately, we also had a cruise booked for February /  March so we the wait was manageable – just.

When the final paperwork came through, which Mrs Me always takes charge of, she announced to me that there would be one formal night, which was to be a Black & White night: ‘Hmm’ thinks I, ‘a visit to Chichester is on the cards here, I just know it’. Sure enough, without me even seeing it coming, despite expecting it, and having just visited my Mummy, we [found ourselves] in Chichester, first in Russell & Bromley and then in Chesca. At a dizzying pace we had amassed a black & white dress plus a top of some sort plus a new pair of shoes (blue!). This woman is good: Real good.

Time to pack – for 4-nights

The day before we were to join the Azura, the packing began. Lined up ready for the off were one suit carrying case (big enough to take one formal suit, 3 shirts, 5(!) posh frocks, plus ties, cufflinks etc. One large suitcase for everything else and one mid sized suitcase for anything we ‘might need’. Mother-in-Law didn’t need a suit carrier so she just took two suitcases. Clearly, sailing from Southampton does remove the need to plan carefully when packing.

Jam Making

I don’t know the name of the company but I do remember once following a road works lorry with the slogan ‘Jam Makers since 1997’. I’ve always remembered the slogan. And today, as we head for the Ocean Terminal in Southampton, I think that lorry was back and had brought a load of his mates with him.  The traffic was diabolical with traffic nose to tail at just above stationary. No matter what lane I was in, the others seemed to be moving quicker. A journey that normally takes me 90 minutes took over 4-hours. My wrath knew no bounds, as I expressed my rage in Facebook. Oh, I do know how to let go you know.

Eventually, we made our way onto the ship and into our cabins. First impressions were good. The cabins were extremely well laid out with loads more room than I was expecting and better still, there was a box of Belgium Chocolates and a bottle of Champagne on ice  waiting in each cabin. This, I decided, was going to be a good cruise. All we had to do was get through the Life Boat Drill, a necessary event which we always want to skip but know that we mustn’t. Then, it was time to explore. Very quickly, we discovered the Glass House, which for some reason I kept referring to as the White Room, and the Blue Bar. These were to become our constant watering holes 🙂

But before all of this, we had been allocated tickets to see Alfie Boe in the PlayHouse Theatre. What a performer he was. Not only is he a great tenor but a great all round entertainer and brings the sound of opera, as well as other types of music, to the masses. He is a normal person who speaks like a normal person and has the ability to talk with you rather than at you. The two guitarists who accompanied him were also brilliant musicians and all in all, the three of them put on a remarkable show. I found myself sitting there, in the theatre on board a cruise ship listening and watching a performer who can pack the O2. This really was an experience. He did four shows while on board with tickets distributed evenly across all passengers and I believe nearly every one of them was used.

All at Sea

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The next day was a designated sea day as we slowly made our way to Bruges (see map) above. Now, I do know that it is perfectly feasible to complete this journey, on a cruise ship, over-night yet on this cruise, the journey was going to take two nights and a day to complete. Believe me, we were going slow, very slow: I, yes I, could have cycled there in less time. But at least it gave us time to explore the ship and maybe, just maybe, seek something from the shops on board. Somehow, Mrs Me finds it nigh on impossible to go an a cruise ship without finding something sparkly to wear. This time, I was fortunate, the sparkly thing she found was actually for Mother-in-Law, which she paid for herself so all in all, this was indeed turning out to be a great cruise.

We explored the Glass House and sampled its wares. We tested out the Blue Bar and sampled its wares. We discovered the Planet Bar, right at the very top from where you can watch the ocean disappear behind us, only to be replaced by more ocean. From here you really can see nothing but sea. Very, very relaxing. Here too, we sampled its wares.

All to soon, it was time to dress for dinner, which to be the formal night. Remember me saying that I was told by Mrs Me that it was to be a Black & White Night for which she would need a new frock. Well, it wasn’t a Black & White Night at all. It was a standard Formal night but, giver credit where credit is due, she did wear her new Black & White dress and very nice she looked too. However, when asked as to whether her rear looked too big in the dress, all I could respond with was ‘I’m sorry, I have no point of reference to judge its size’ for which I got a thick ear. My cauliflower ear continues to be so. With my ear smarting, and wearing my nice white tuxedo, brought for the Black & White Night, we made our way to the Peninsular Restaurant for our evening meal. I have to say, the food and the service was excellent. The waiters and assistants all did their utmost to ensure we, and everybody else, enjoyed the whole dining experience as if we were the only ones there. I commend them all.

The next bit is a bit hazy, partly because of my smarting ear and possibly because of the wine but at some point during the evening, we espied one of many ships photographers: ah, I remember now, he was just outside the Glass House! Nothing unusual about seeing a photographer but this one was familiar. This one was called Adrian. This one used to be on the Arcadia. This one took our wedding photos when we were on the Arcadia in February / March (the wedding was in March, the cruise spanned both months). I could do nothing. Before I could say ‘look out Adrian’, Mrs Me made a bee line for the poor man. ‘Ooh Adrian,’ exclaims Mrs Me, ‘What are you doing here?’, threw her arms around him and land him with a big sloppy kiss (I winder what would happen if I did the same to one of the lady photographers. Actually, I know already: I’d ket a thick ear).  It transpired that as his contract ended with the Arcadia, he was offered a new one with the Azura. Mrs Me was happy: I can’t help feeling that Adrian was wondering if he is being stalked though.

That night, Alfie Boe was singing for the other half of the ship, in two sittings as per the previous night, so entertainment for us was to visit the Malabar Bar where they had a soul singer belting out, err, soul songs. Not a patch on Alfie but good nevertheless and, very pleasing on the eye – ouch, my ear hurts again :-(. And so, once again, with my ear smarting, we retire for the night: but not before a final nightcap on the balcony. As I stood there leaning on the rail, a surreal picture presented itself. We had stopped (look for the squiggly bit on the map just before Bruges) and dropped anchor. Clearly, we hadn’t gone slow enough and arrived too early. But, we were not alone, there were ships everywhere: all stationary: all anchored: all waiting; waiting to go into port. Wherever I looked, there were ships all lit up, probably just as well as they were all stationary, and it was dar, as if waiting for some mysterious event. Whatever the event was, I was going to bed, and so withe once last glance out to sea and one last slug of a rather nice malt whiskey, I retired.

Bruges – Again!

Having visited Bruges three time before, we were this time delighted to see that the day was dry – on all three previous occasions, it had rained – and so was looking forward to our trip into town.

Once in town, we were given instructions as to where to be and at what time for the bus to take us back to the ship (it would be an eleven mile walk back if we missed the bus!) and with that we were released into the town to do as we wish. And with that we headed off towards the town square. After about 30 minutes we turned back and headed for the town square, this time in the right direction but we didn’t care, after all, it wasn’t raining, yet!. For all that, I still like Bruges.

On the way, we decide to stop at a bar so that Mother-in-Law could sample the local waffles while tried a local beer :-).

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Unauthorised use of this image is VERY naughty. @ Podgethepuffer

Then we noticed people scurrying around outside with umbrellas and rain hoods. Yep, it was raining. Time for another beer.

As the rain eased, we made our way back out into the streets and into the town square where we found loads of shops selling Belgium chocolates, yum yum. Naturally, we had to buy some. Actually, we bought a lot: I’m eating some them now. Laden down with our bags of goodies, we made our way back to the pick up point and back to the ship. But not without spotting a few bikes on the way.

Back on board, we ready ourselves for an evening of entertainment from a young comedian who was in Britain’s Got Talent, just after Susan Boyle so was difficult to remember. But remember him (Gareth Oliver), we should. Looking a bit like Russell Brand, he gave an excellent performance throwing his voice in ways I’ve never seen before an thoroughly confusing the sound man. Then, he brings up an unsuspecting member of the advance to help him with his next part of the show.

Attaching a false mouth over his face, he was able to make the passing come to life as one of his puppets and make him say things, mostly to the passengers wife in the audience that perhaps he wouldn’t say normally, not without getting a thick ear at least.

Now, remember how the journey from Southampton to Bruges took 2-nights and a day? Well, we now had to travel from Bruges, passing Southampton, to St Peter Port in Guernsey, overnight: which, we did with ease.

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St. Peter Port – Again

Yes, we’ve been here before, many times, and only once have we ever managed to get ashore. The only way ashore is by tender, and we hate tenders (we had a bad experience once 😦 ) and this trip was to be no different. It was raining, it was misty and there was a enough movement of the sea for us to take the decision to stay on board and enjoy the amenities of the Azura. Speaking with some passengers on their return, while it was ok, it wasn’t a wholly pleasant experience so we’re glad we opted out.

The day was quiet and restful though we did spend a bit longer in the Glass House a bit longer, ok, a lot longer than we had planned such that by the time we did get up to leave, we were quite mellow with Rioja and Rosé. But, I did manage to finish compiling our wedding cruise book and get that off to the printers so the day was a good day.

Then there was the sail away. A good old fashioned traditional British sail away party to good old faithful songs from early years to [almost] current years. Everybody was in good voice while the wine flowed.

The evening was spent in Seventeen, a different restaurant aimed at providing a fine dining experience. We were already getting that in the main restaurant but here it was up to a whole new level. The food was to die for, cooked to perfection as it was, the service was superb and the wine was even better :-).

Then off to the PlayHouse Theatre to see the Azura Theatre Company put on a show to beat all shows. To date, I’ve always been rather neutral on Ships Theatre Shows but tonight was different. Tonight was spectacular as they presented some of the most iconic characters and soundtracks from British screens finishing with an homage to James Bond. Their use of strobe lighting and pyrotechnics definitely left us both shaken and stirred but in a nice way.

With the show behind us, it was time to hit the Blue Bar before packing as we set sail for Southampton.

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Time now to plan our next venture.

 

 

Yes, it’s that time again. The time when the countdown begins. The countdown to the next time I get on a Cruise Ship. It may only be for 4 nights but at least for a while I shall once more be sampling the delights of cruising: something I think I was born to do. So in the time honoured tradition, of mine at least, here goes.

All together now:

8 more sleeps to go;

8 more sleeps to cruising

8 more sleeps till this the big fat fella gets on that boat,

with his bird, and his [Mother-in-Law!]

8 more sleeps to cruising.

Yay.

This time, we’re going on the Azura with P&O, mainly because we haven’t been on her before (why are ships called her by the way?), we need to get the Azura Teddy and Alfie Boe is on the ship; and Mother-in-Law just loves Alfie Boe.

As the trip is just a short one, we’re clearly not going anywhere exotic such as Bora Bora or Tahiti or St Lucia or the Galapagos or The Philippines. No, we’re going to Bruges in Belgium (via Zeebrugge), often known as the Venice of the North but more importantly, Bruges has an abundance of Chocolate and Beer; though giving my dairy reduced diet, I somehow think Chocolate will be off the menu for me. Yeah, right. My one big concern however is that every time we’ve been to Bruges before, it’s rained – let’s hope that this time it doesn’t.

After Bruges we’re going to St. Peter Port in Guernsey. We’ve been there a couple of times (once on the QE2 don’t you know) before but were unable to land as the sea was too choppity for the tenders to be used to take us ashore safely. So, and given that I hate tenders, if there the slightest hint of a wave, I’m staying on board and relaxing by the bar. And for those concerned we might be missing the delights of Guernsey, don’t worry, we have managed to get ashore once before and on that occasion, Mrs Me did manage to find a shop that sells shiny sparkly things so staying on board does have its attractions.

This time next week, we’ll be packing and lecturing the boys about not having parties while we’re away and today, I may, just may, get one of my Bicycles out  and go for a little bike ride. If I do, and I hope I do, I shall report back on how I got on, assuming of course I can still [get on]. We shall see.

Until then:

Go Podge, Go.