Leaving New York

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime – I could write an extensive piece on the things I don’t like about cruising and cruise ships but it does have the occasional upside.  We had been at sea for six days, crossing the Atlantic, when we set the early morning alarm to ensure we didn’t miss the entry into New York.  Drawing back the cabin curtains we found ourselves easing up the Hudson to Pier 88.  This dark September morning Manhattan shone like a jewel across the river; it was one of the most magical travel experiences I have ever encountered.  It has to be the best way of arriving in the city.

When we left two days later nighttime was drawing in under thunderous skies – it is also a very impressive way of leaving New York.

Leaving New York

(click on the image to enlarge)

Closer to the edge – 8

Tonight’s Arcadia entertainment:  Vlad from Lithuania – Ten nights only!  Widely regarded as the world’s Premier Welder Tenor, Vlad has demonstrated spot welding whilst singing a selection of the best loved arias in venues all over the world.  From Trondheim to Bangalore audiences have been riveted to their seats.

Not quite riveting enough for us though, so we watched Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in Hope Springs – it could have been made for Arcadia, judging by the too knowing high pitched laughs emanating from the female contingent.  Unfortunately the film was projected in the wrong aspect ratio such that everyone appeared at least one third wider than they should.  This may be a more anatomically accurate portrayal of the age group (the precise age range was never made quite clear) but when it came to the more intimate scenes, the participants possessed all the lithe grace of beached walruses.

Today was Cannes in bright low December sunshine.  There is no port so Arcadia drops anchor in the bay and we are afforded a worm’s eye view of the ship from the tender, which gives me an excuse to quote from this traditional lament, best sung by the Unthanks:

Here’s the tender coming, pressing all the men;
Oh dear hinny, what shall we do then?
Here’s the tender coming, off at Shield’s Bar,
Here’s the tender coming, full of men of war.
Hide thee, canny Geordie, hide thyself away;
Hide thee till the tender makes for Druridge Bay.
If they take thee, Geordie, who’s to win our bread?
Me and little Jackie better off be dead.

Arcadia from the tenderThe entire town was on parade, walking the seafront from Quai Laubeuf to La Croisette, many with ferrety little dogs in tow.  There are dazzling baubles and bangles aplenty, unaffordable one room apartments and beautifully crafted Ducatis but not a single four-wheeled exotic to be seen.

Cannes baublesCannes window shoppingIn the pavements outside the Palais des Festivals are handprints of the great and the good preserved in concrete – I was hoping for more from the gifted creator of Edward Scissorhands.

Tim Burton - CannesI think I may have been too long at sea.

Closer to the edge – 7

Tonight’s Arcadia entertainment, and I quote – Pete Matthews – One night only!  Widely regarded as the UK’s Premier Comedy Juggler, Pete Matthews has performed his show in venues all over the world.  From Vietnam to Vancouver, there aren’t many places he hasn’t been!

You couldn’t make it up – if I later hear that he was juggling live cats I will kick myself for staying away.

The last two ports of call have been Civitavecchia and Livorno promoted as staging posts for Rome and Florence respectively but having spent extended periods in both, nothing would tempt us back just for a half day; both deserve much more attention.  Civitavecchia is a pleasant enough working city but Livorno is much under-rated, particularly the old town and its network of canals.

Here are a few images from street wanderings, the first being the only one from Civitavecchia – an unlikely piece of civic art – a photograph of a ‘sculpture’ inspired by a photograph.

The kissScootersIn step at the marketLivorno canals

Closer to the edge – 4

I have a long history of walking race circuits and a much shorter one driving them.  In 1965 I dragged my Dad around Monaco on a searing hot day when there was still a station at Station hairpin but not, as far as I can recall, a gasworks.  It is only natural therefore that I should inflict the Valencia GP circuit on my better half, particularly as cruise ships moor within a few hundred yards of the pit complex, probably the most elegant on the entire circus.  The disappointment for the GP Ramblers Association, an unlikely club of which I am probably the sole member, is that a full lap is not possible.  There is a stretch in the marina along the front of the Americas Cup buildings which is cordoned off whilst the swing bridge that loops the circuit back towards the pit complex is permanently open to boats and permanently closed to road traffic.  That apart, it is an invigorating if leisurely lap with plenty of GP ‘archaeology’ to be found around the streets.

Valencia pit complexThe centre of Valencia is some distance from the docks and the road in follows a large section of the Rio Turia which was diverted away from the city following disastrous flooding in 1957.  The entire 4.5 mile riverbed has since been transformed  into gardens, recreations areas and sports facilities encased in embankments and elegant old bridges whose original purpose has gone with the river.  It is a miracle not just in engineering terms but in local politics; how on earth do you transform an idea like “why don’t we drain the riverbed” into reality; this wasn’t a stream, this was something approaching the size of the River Thames.

It was Christmas Eve in Valencia, it was shoulder to shoulder in the market and people danced in the streets.

ValenciaValencia Market

Closer to the edge – 3

I have been ill-prepared for this trip so each arrival at port is a Magical Mystery Tour or more accurately, a Marty Feldman Lightning Tour.  I had heard of Cadiz before we arrived, nothing more.  It has plenty of history but not recent;  by 1770 it was the trading port with the Americas and established a wealth beyond London.  Not for long though – thirty years later the English appeared on the horizon in the form of that good man Nelson who promptly set his cannons upon the city; good old British diplomacy.  In its final major act upon the world stage it was the port that hosted Villeneuve’s fleet on the eve of its total destruction at Trafalgar.

Apropos of nothing at all, the words of King Creosote’s plaintive Admiral  have risen from the waves:

You’ve carved a hairline scratch
Into this granite heart
And it’s here I falter….
It’s you I’ll scuttle the fleet for
Make my first mate walk the plank for
Admire the all or nothing
I’m Admiral of nothing at all
Nothing at all

Its demise as a major city is purportedly historical but the more obvious reason is geographical.  It is on a peninsula surrounded on almost all sides by water – there is simply no room to expand.

On the great chequerboard of life, what random roll of the dice, what storm-tossed sea put me here on this day, of this month, in this year – December 22nd 2012; Cadiz.

Cadiz Dice Cadiz cathedrals

Closer to the edge – 2

Today we were let out for good behaviour, destination Lisbon.  Despite the low winter sun it was warm and dry; the smoke from a dozen hot chestnut sellers filled the air, none of them doing a brisk trade in the unseasonal temperatures.

CastanhasThe shuttle bus delivered us just above Rossio Square from where it is a walk into the light all the way down Rua Augusta to the waterfront.  This high contrast view of the world mixed with swirling smoke is primarily monotone so, courtesy of Bibble, I have converted most images to monochrome.  I will remember Lisbon as a black and white world.

Lisbon StreetsFountainDown by the waterDiscovery of the day was Mude – the Design Museum of Lisbon.  There is something endlessly fascinating about seeing the familiar elevated to the status of a museum piece.  It was the sixties that dominated but in amongst the hard edged design icons were these gowns which flowed like liquid; inevitably in black and white.

Design MuseumBy contrast, this celebration of Fado is pure Kodachrome.


Closer to the edge – 1

It is almost embarrassing to admit but here we are again, aboard hospital ship Arcadia, this time heading for the western Mediterranean.  I should not tempt fate but unlike sister ships Adonia and Azura, this vessel has not yet succumbed to norovirus.  There is however something called the Arcadia Cough which I can only assume is a collective reaction to the gallons of hand gel being dispensed to ward off the aforementioned bug.

These are a few photos taken before we left Southampton – a gin clear day which turned to a heavy swell and later a turbulent voyage across the Bay of Biscay.

SouthamptonSouthamptonDespite the length of time we have been at sea this year, I am not really a ship person, I prefer four wheels (and now two) firmly attached to dry land.  My school exercise books were covered with drawings of competition cars, some real, some futuristic.  The latter were, for the most part, my unique vision of the future F1 single-seater; none of my design concepts have come to pass but for sheer ugliness I was way ahead of my time.  The 21st Century grand prix car is rarely a thing of beauty, turning the old engineering adage, ”if it looks right, it probably is right”, on its head.

The other morning I attended the first of seven talks on Concorde, this one trying to define its ‘magic’ – an interesting analysis by Pete Finlay, an ex BA Senior Flight Engineer.  In my view the ‘magic’ is simply down to the way it looked – no plane, before or since, has ever looked more right.

For years I was a Motor Sport and Denis Jenkinson boy, eagerly devouring Continental Notes and his Grand Prix reports, an obsession only surpassed by my passion for Pete Lyons’ writings in Road & Track.  Somehow L J K Setright  passed me by, so discovering him later in life has been a surprise and a joy.  This is his analysis of the Jaguar E Type, another piece of engineering which unquestionably looked right:

…they (the brakes) did not work effectively when cold because Sir William Lyons flatly refused to spend an extra three farthings per wheel on superior pads which would have solved the problem. He also drove a hard bargain on dampers at fifteen shillings each.  All Jaguars, so long as the business was in the grim Lyons grip, were like that.  Costly-looking leather was cheaply held in place by stationer’s staples where they would not show.  Electrics were made by Lucas with the same cynicism as Lyons employed in ordering them.  Yet the E-Type could not help but seem special.

An extract from Setright’s Long Lane with Turnings.

Postcards from the edge – 1

We are all at sea and will be for some considerable time, heading for New York aboard Arcadia.  I still have my doubts about cruising, the major one being the average age of the passengers.  I know this is cruel and we are all heading there eventually but it does seem premature to be hanging out in God’s waiting room.


The positives are being at sea, pulling back the curtains and finding yourself in a completely new place, inevitably the food, having an excuse to be idle and the lectures.  The entertainment is probably ok if you once thought the Black & White Minstrel Show the height of sophistication and the ‘comedians’ acceptable if you suffer from memory loss.  The ship’s small cinema is a delight; it seats about thirty in sumptuous reclining seats, what a pity the films to date have been so dire.  Last night it was Darling Companion which could have been made in 1955; a ‘modern’ tale of a stray dog.  Unfortunately the only actor who seems to have his heart in it goes missing for much of the film;  the dog turns up again safe and sound just before the credits.

There is a gym with various instruments of torture, so to ‘keep fit’ we have taken to the treadmill.  So far I have run 7 kilometres across the Atlantic, the only thing easing the pain is the music inserted into the centre of my head from an iPod;  The Seldom Seen Kid and never in the gym.

It is our third day aboard and I have seen but one other sign of life, container ship MSC Tokyo about one mile north on the starboard side and 120 nautical miles south of Cork.  The rest of the time it is just endless sea and sky, a magnificent and ever changing canvas.

The sea and sky