A Few More Places in Europe.

23.11.2019 Palma de Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain.

This is going to get repetitive as it involves a number of circuits of the western Mediterranean in the good ship AIDAsol. I flew into Palma from Berlin and was met by H at the airport. Boarded the ship and we were off. A day at sea and then Italy.

25.11.2019 Civitaveccia, Port of Rome, Italy

It is well known that the weather in the Med in winter is not great and to prove it there was a fairly nasty storm yesterday. By my reckoning above Force 10. There were lots of broken plates in the restaurants and some passengers clutching sick bags but no big deal for me in a boat this size.

The weather was cold and miserable in Civitaveccia and I couldn’t be bothered schlepping in to Rome so I was put to work in some of my usual on-board jobs which this time are the composing of pithy commemorative fridge-magnet designs, and language tuition for those officers who want to end up with a Lancashire/Texas accent.

26.11.2019 Livorno, Lucca, Pisa, Tuscany, Italy

I rented a car in the port of Livorno and H and I drove to Lucca. This is a really well preserved Renaissance town with complete city walls and loads of churches and towers. We parked outside the Porta Santa Maria gate and walked to the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro which is a piazza in the shape of the Roman amphitheatre originally at this location. Onward to the Torre Guinigi which is one strange tower with oak trees growing out of the top. Then on to the Duomo di San Martino which is a very exuberant confection of a cathederal in white marble. There is a labyrinth design carved on the right portico which seems to be famous and I was encouraged to to buy a gold trinket with the same design for H to find in her shoe on St Nikolaus Day next week. We had a lunch of Zuppa Toscana, bread, cheese and prosciutto in the shadow of another fancy church of Chiesa di San Giusto and then back to the car.

on the way back to the port we had a really, really quick photo stop at the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We didn’t see too much as our car was parked in a less than properly authorized place and I was being harassed by a chap who claimed to come all the way from Nairobi just to sell me something.

27.-28.2019 Marseille, France – Les Misérables in Provence

We landed in Marseilles late in the afternoon and Uber-ed into the old port area. We were mostly looking for a nice restaurant we could use for Christmas dinner but as I was suspecting from an earlier web search this was not going to be easy. The Intercontinental Hotel was one of the few possibilities but after checking it out we abandoned the whole idea of eating out on the 25th. We ate dinner on this evening at a bistro on the harbour and had a Pernod aperitif and some tapas and an anchovy pizza. All tres European.

The port of Marseilles has played a minor walk-on role before in my family history. On March 2nd 1917 my Great Uncle, Cpl. Reg Elliot landed here after sailing in from Alexandria on the SS TRANSYLVANIA with the 2/5 Bn. East Lancs Regiment. He was only 21 but already battle-hardened from two and a half years fighting the Ottoman Empire on the Suez Canal and at Gallipoli. From Marseilles he boarded a train taking him to the Somme area of the Western Front. He was killed just over a year later during the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

The next day we had a dash to Aix-en-Provence in a rental car singing loudly along to La Marseillaise and songs from Les Misérables. We had a very nice lunch in the sunny Place de l’Hotel-de-Ville under electric heaters.

29.11.2019 Barcelona, Spain – Engraved in Our Memory

Just played the 1992 Summer Olympics song Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé for local atmosphere:

Barcelona – Such a beautiful horizon
Barcelona – Like a jewel in the sun
Por ti seré gaviota de tu bella mar
Barcelona – Suenan las campanas
Barcelona – Abre tus puertas al mundo

Mercury and Caballé are both long gone but Ed Sheeran has taken up the Barcelona song baton with the slightly less poetic lyrics:

Just close your eyes
And let’s pretend we’re dancing in the street
In Barcelona

Barcelona is nice but as I’ve been here before and as I expect to be here several times in the near future so I just scuttled out to the duty free shop and back again.

Expecting to meet up with a new AIDA ship, AIDAmira, in Palma, our ship was asked to help out with their commissioning by producing 490 new name badges for their crew. These are individually engraved on aluminium so it’s not the speediest of processes and rarely needed for a whole shipload at one time. This is, of course, exactly the kind of extracurricular job that usually gets delegated to me by the evil HR Manager, that is when I’m not busy being der Weihnachtsmann; King Neptune; the Kid’s Club Dodo or emergency dishwasher, so I was not surprised to find that I had to have an all night session manning an engraving machine. This was not helped by some of the Asian crew being blessed with staggeringly lengthy names.

30.11.2019 Palma de Mallorca – Fireworks & Damp Squib

I took a walk to the nearest shopping mall to the port to look at the hams and cheeses, as one does, and then took a closer look at the AIDAmira moored on the other side of the harbour. AIDAmira is new ship for AIDA but is actually a recently refitted former Costa ship. Late in the evening there was a celebration and champagne-bottle breaking for the ship re-christening. We watched the live TV broadcast in the Captain’s cabin and then watched fireworks over the fortress of San Carlos from the better vantage point of the General Manager’s balcony. This show was intended as an immediate precursor to AIDAmira sailing on her maiden voyage in her new livery but problems with some issues relating to the refit prevented her going and we sailed out of the harbour with her still on the dock around midnight.

02.-03.12.2019 Livorno, Italy

The original plan was for a sea-day and then to arrive at Civitaveccia but weather-safe berthing in the port was thought to be a problem and so we had an overnight in Livorno instead. We had planned on driving to some Tuscan hill towns but ended up doing some shopping and having a pizza in Livorno mit der Kapitän instead.

04..12.2019 Ajaccio, Corsica – Napoleon and Josephine go for Lunch

This was an unexpected destination and an alternative to Marseilles which will be a bad place to be tomorrow because of the planned general strike in France. Ajaccio is a nice place anyway with yachts in the harbour and snow-capped mountains in the distance. This is the town where Napoleon Bonaparte grew up and we walked to the Maison Bonaparte for a little history. We had to wait 15 minutes to get in to the house so we drank some beer in the street. One with “Napoleon” on the label and the other with “Josephine”.

Later, we had a look in the cathedral and H lit some candles for departed friends and relatives. At the beach we looked around for a restaurant for lunch but it was late in the day and as the French are a bit rigid with mealtimes they were closing so we wandered into a Greek restaurant called L’Athena which seemed more open. At least we thought it was Greek but it turned out to be very French/Corsican with maybe just hellenophile owners.

05.12.2019 Barcelona, Spain – Santa’s Workshop

I am leaving the ship tomorrow to provide assistance to another cruise ship which is in distress. In the morning I will be flying from Barcelona to Malaga and then driving to Gibraltar where the AIDAmira will be berthed. Some documents need urgent delivery so some of the crew on board can be paid. Less importantly, but more bulkily, I will carrying 500 Christmas presents. These were originally planned for the AIDAsol crew but are now destined for opening on Christmas Day by the crew of the AIDAmira. They will be travelling away from our own relatively convenient routes and we can be more easily resupplied. Our cabin has looked like Santa’s Grotto for days while we’ve been wrapping everything up.

I will also be delivering 500 fridge magnets from our crew to their crew as a kind of Nikolaus Day gift combined with an expression of support for embattled colleagues. For non-Germans, the Nikolaus is a type of Santa Claus character of German tradition that arrives on 6th December and leaves presents in shoes. No guesses for who did the design work on the magnets and who has to dress up as the Nikolaus. Fortunately I can use my Weinachtsmann outfit which is essentially the same thing and which I was going to wear in a few weeks time anyway. The real traditional costume for Nikolaus is that of a Turkish bishop but nobody seems to do that anymore as traditions continue to merge towards the US/Coca Cola model. In the afternoon, TV cameras recorded me for posterity pretending to wrap presents in a fake grotto set up in the Captain’s cabin.

We arrived at Barcelona in the evening as part of the ongoing plan to avoid problems with Marseilles and the French general strike. Final packing and an early bedtime as the transfer to the airport is in the early hours. I just hope the port agents have made good arrangements.

06.12.2019 Gibraltar on Nikolaustag?

All went well with getting to Barcelona Airport and we met up with Suraj, a crewman from the AIDAsol that I am also delivering to the AIDAmira. The flight to Malaga was good, the car rental smooth and we set off in good time down the Andalucian coast to Gibraltar. We arrived a couple of hours later at the border crossing and then all was not so well. We got trapped in no-man’s-land for an hour between the border posts while Suraj had some technicalities of his paperwork being checked out. It’s difficult enough for a UK citizen to make this crossing but when you are a seaman from India and arriving by road to Gibraltar and then you are departing immediately by sea, it’s very paper-intensive.

While we were waiting for the local shipping agent to sort things out, the bad weather snapped some of the mooring lines of the ship, fuel-bunkering was hastily abandoned and they sailed away. That settled it for the Gibraltar border guards and Suraj, no ship to go to so eff off. We returned to Spain and found a paella restaurant for lunch. It was a long drive back to Malaga and we got another flight out of there to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands, where the AIDAmira was expected to be in a couple of day’s time. I was getting a bit tired of the whole Nikolaus thing by this stage.

looking at the photographs, I was amused by the parallels with our trip and the Netherlands/Flanders tradition of Sinterklaas and his sidekick, Zwarte Piet. The Dutch Sinterklaas is much like the German Nikolaus and also has a day on December 6th. The Zwarte Piet character is supposed to be a Moor from Spain who travels with Sinterklaas by sea from Madrid to leave sweets for children. My dark sidekick is from Goa but is also travelling through Spain. I expect my flight out of the Canaries will also involve a stopover in Madrid so close enough.

The black-face tradition is a little controversial these days. I would doubt it is ever intentionally racist but possibly it’s an unthinking throwback to colonial times that is best phased out. Like the much-loved golliwogs on the jam-jars when I was a kid. One would imagine that any Moors left in Spain would be EU citizens by now and would not have immigration problems whenever travelling in Europe. This is unlike Suraj now, and even myself post-Brexit.

Don’t vote Conservative.

07.-08.12.2019 Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands – Delivering Gifts

Suraj and I, unexpectedly finding ourselves as tourists, wandered the streets of Santa Cruz. First to the Military Museum overlooking the cruise port. A lot of the exhibits in the museum are related to the amphibious 1797 Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It was a battle that was inconclusive except for a decisive victory over Horatio Nelson’s arm that got left behind there. The AIDAstella was in port so, as usual, most voices heard on the streets were German. Next, we ended up at a restaurant near the Auditorio which did Chinese/Thai/Japanese food and Suraj learned how to use chopsticks.

The next morning, the AIDAmira had arrived and along with half a dozen contractors we had a transfer to the port. Dara the HR Manager for AIDAmira met us at the gangway and crew were organised to take my sacks of gifts on board. Ho! Ho! I met up with Kapitän Manuel and we took some photos on the pool deck amid piles of construction debris and then lunch. A cruise ship without passengers is a strange place. Construction work will continue for them until the next port of call at Cape Town.

Then I was on my way back to the AIDAsol which was expected in Civitaveccia, Port of Rome, the next day. A minor panic was caused when Google Maps showed me they had put me on a crew transfer bus to Aeropuerto Tenerife Sur when I really needed the much closer Aeropuerto Tenerife Norte. The driver stopped for me half way down the island and called his company for a rescue bus. I got to the correct airport with just enough time to have one drink and one sandwich in the lounge. The next stop was Madrid where I got yet another hotel near the airport. A nearby Mickey D’s did a good locally designed burger with goat’s cheese and mango chutney.

09.12.2019 Madrid to Rome – The Last Leg

I got an early flight out of Madrid to Rome Fiumicino and was met by a driver to take me to the port of Civitaveccia. Reboarded the AIDAsol and my Nikolaus/Sinterklaas 6,000 km side journey was over. The Weinachtsmann will have it easier at Christmas-time. I hope. The media people on AIDAsol put together a short video of the trip which is here.

10.12.2019 Livorno, Italy – Pizza in the Piazza

H and I got the shuttle bus into town and looked for a pizza restaurant. You wouldn’t think that too difficult in Italy but it was. We found one eventually just off the Piazza della Repubblica which wasn’t too bad. Our two pizzas were washed down with some rough red wine. Then we wandered the streets and canals of an area called Little Venice and took a quick look into the Fortezza Nuovo, the “new” Medician fortress in the town completed around 1605. Like much of Livorno, it was a bit run-down and with graffiti everywhere which is a shame as the fortresses and canals could be good tourist assets for Livorno given a little more care.

11.-13.2019 Barcelona, Spain – The Gaudi Life

Because of the continuing general strike in France we didn’t go to Marseille as planned but will have two nights in Barcelona instead.

I got yet another day-job on the ship which was translating the Christmas menus from German into English for the posh restaurant. I thought it was going to be easy with Google Translate but every second word is actually the French or Italian for some obscure vegetable or cooking method that the English have never even pretended to give a name to.

We arrived fairly late in the evening but slipped away by taxi to start a stroll on La Rambla. We walked much of the length of the street but it was too cold to sit outside so we found a tapas restaurant and had four or five plates of stuff and a jug of sangria. I suggested to the waiter that on cold days they should make sangria hot like Glühwein but I could see resistance in his eyes.

After lunch the next day, we wrapped up well and took an open-top bus tour from the World Trade Center. We went up Montjuic to the Miramar Gardens. We had lunch there in November of 2015 when we were here for a Convention. It’s a good view over the city. We passed the 1992 Olympic Stadium and the Plaza España , with its repurposed bullring, and on to the less attractive railway station and FC Barcelona stadium. And got off the bus next to one of Gaudi’s strangely creepy buildings at La Manzania de la Discordia and walked to the Gothic Quarter. There was a Christmas market next to the cathedral. Some of the market stalls sell what is probably Catalonia’s greatest cultural gift to Christmas. This is “El Caganer”. Basically a pooping peasant that they put in Nativity scenes. I am at a loss to explain it.

Brexit…well I’m very disappointed on this Friday the 13th.

I’m very disappointed by the UK electorate. I always hoped that they would come to their collective senses and realize that a deliberate own-goal and a voluntary relegation to the semi-professional leagues of nations is perhaps not a good idea. Even if you entertain the dream that Britain’s standing in the world will somehow return if only those other pesky European countries were not holding us back.

I’m very disappointed by the first-past-the-post voting system in the UK that could mean theoretically that a political party who win the popular vote across the country could end up with no seats in Parliament. Maybe it’s good for local representation but it’s a useless way to select a national government.

I’m very disappointed with the opposition parties with their rubbish leaders and rubbish policies. The straight cancelling of Brexit policy of the LibDems, while good for me, was never going to appeal to those voters who believe the last referendum was a shining example of democracy at work. Also the fence-sitting by Labour, peddling outdated pinko policies that barely resonate these days even with the cloth-cap, ferret-carrying classes was never going appeal either.

I’m particularly disappointed by that self-serving leader of the Conservative Party who clearly puts his own fame and fortune above that of the long-term well-being of the British people and disguises it all with a layer of jovial buffoonery.

And I’m very, very disappointed that my passport will become worthless in the country where I live. Anticipating some difficulties I recently applied for, and got, a permanent residence permit for Germany. This is not going to be an easy option in the future for many Britons, who for professional or personal reasons might want to live and work somewhere else other than those tiny, formerly great, islands off the northwest coast of Europe.

14.12.2019 Palma Mallorca and Berlin Germany

Woke up in Palma. Had breakfast and caught the shuttle-bus to the airport. Flight to Berlin SXF and then the bus home. Very depressing. It’s about 2ºC and raining here. I’m hibernating for the next six days and on Friday 20th I will be back in Palma.

No, I can’t stop. I’m too vexed about this Brexit nonsense. On thinking about it, I shouldn’t have been at all surprised. We British love a heroic failure and Brexit will, mark my words, fall into that category, sooner or later. Doing stuff against impossible odds and going on alone is the kind of thing that most uplifts the self-esteem of the masochistic Public schoolboys that run the country.

In future history books, Brexit will quite probably join the Charge of the Light Brigade; Isandlwana; Khartoum; Gallipoli; Scott’s expedition to the South Pole; Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition, as an example of British perseverance and courage in disastrous situations and terrible planning.

I think it less likely that Brexit will join the ranks of British successes where victory was snatched from the jaws of defeat at such battles as Crécy, Agincourt, Trafalgar, Waterloo, Battle of Britain, El Alemein and others but in any case these were not easy victories over our then hostile European neighbors before there was a EU to encourage cooperation. Let us hope these countries remain friendly once we are on the outside of the European tent as there is no certainty we would win these days.