Cruise to Marrakech 2008
Never go to sea in October is a rule that I have more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Many unhappy October day have been spent waiting in Holyhead or on the Scillies for a local boat to take me to a lighthouse - or worse waiting on a lighthouse for the return trip. So here I go again, the 1st of October sees us in a taxi to Southampton to go on a cruise.
The forecast was not good as we sailed on Fred Olsen's MV Boudicca down the Solent, although sunny when we started the breeze was picking up and a westerly gale was expected and that was due to be followed by a Northerly once we got to the Bay of Biscay. Oh Joy!
Still, we went on deck to see our former workplace at Cowes, until a squall forced us back in. We were due to drop our pilot near the Nab tower but before we arrived there a medical emergency was declared and we waited until a passenger could be airlifted off. Not the easiest of manoeuvres, winching a stretcher up from a smallish cruise ship at night, in near gale conditions, even with the bulk of the Isle of Wight giving us some relief from the wind and seas. Shortly after the helicopter flew away to Southampton, we dropped the pilot, another task more easily said than done.
One of things that can be a lottery on a cruise is who you will be seated with for dinner. Presumably sometimes there is a selection process other than fate. Perhaps the price of your cabin (certainly a factor on Cunard) or any hint of your occupation (P&O). Your fellow diners can make or spoil your cruise. We have been both blessed and cursed in the past but on the first tonight's showing its going to be OK. They are a couple who are on their first cruise and a mother and her son, who have been on Fred Olsen lines before but not on Boudicca.
Once you have been on a cruise comparisons are inevitably made. In our case our four previous cruises; Norway and Iceland on Arcadia in 2002, The Baltic on Oceana in 2003 (both P&O), Antarctica on Discovery in 2005, Galapagos, Panama and the Caribbean on Discovery in 2006 form our benchmarks. The present ship is at 28,000 GRT is a a lot smaller than either Arcadia or Oceana (around 70,000 GRT) but a bit bigger than Discovery (20,000 GRT), part of the comparison will be how she crosses the Bay of Biscay in a gale compared with crossing Drake's passage between Cape Horn and Antarctica. Like Discovery (the sister ship to that used in 'Love Boat' ) Boudicca looks like a ship not a block of flats. Certainly as we had our meal, watched the show, lingered in a bar and settled down for sleep she or her stabilisers were coping well with the channel gale we were plugging into. The fish was overcooked at dinner though!
Day 2 Thursday - Stormy Didn't sleep too well. Our cabin is an inside one, on the lowest deck and quite near the middle measuring from bow to stern. This was a deliberate choice, partly as these are the cheapest cabins but also because the position gives the least movement, don't book a top deck stateroom if you suffer from motion sickness! By and large we hardly noticed the slight motion as we lay in bed but every so often a bigger wave would rattle the whole ship. I would then lie awake waiting for the next one, or having got off to sleep wake up with a start when something rattled more than usual. By the morning the motion was much worse as we were 45 degrees on to the wind and waves. Throughout the day the motion got gradually worse still, we were still in fairly shallow water and the westerly gale was still with us. It was now dangerous to go on certain areas of the deck and the starboard deck doors were all roped off.
We did get to breakfast though and launched ourselves once more into the orgy of food and trivia that makes up a cruise day at sea. For those of you that have never been on a cruise there are some common themes no matter who you travel with. There are quizzes, dance lessons, keep fit sessions, lectures etc and food, food, food. We are now starting to 'rate' this cruise. Nothing so far has been quite as good as on Discovery but is still of a good standard. The lecture on the history of cruising was beset with technical problems and punctuated by the lecturer coughing into his 'open' mic. We seemed to be rushed through our meal last night and it wasn't only the fish that was marginal. The show last night was a little hackneyed and seemed off balance, we found out later that a dancer had been injured in the first house and was unable to carry on. Considering that by then the ship was moving about quite a bit and the show lounge was on the sixth deck its a wonder they could stay upright at all. However tonights show consisting of a magician and a comedian was very enjoyable
Tonight was our first formal dinner so it was on with the tuxedos, dinner jackets and posh frocks etc. We saw one girl wearing a dress so short that I look forward to seeing her again when long dresses aren't the rig of the day. We were a couple short on our table, so wondered if they had tired of our company already and had gone instead to another restaurant. It transpired that it was just a case of sea sickness. Doreen has been wearing pressure bands on her wrists all day and had ensured that our sea-sick pills were readily to hand. These two measures sufficed to keep us well. I'm not sure why things like that work but in the case of seasickness which I'm sure starts in the mind, it seems to.
The staff are really friendly and attentive, they are mostly from the Philippines, but some are from Korea, Vietnam and Thailand, although as you might expect the master, senior deck and engineering officers are from Scandinavia. It does lead to names that we English find humorous, our chief waiter is 'Bong', our cabin stewardess 'Moo' and someone else's stewardess is 'Poo'. We all met the captain tonight and had our photos taken with him. That is another 'given' on a cruise, you get photographed all the time. We have spent lots of money in the past on photos that have lain in a drawer on our return, so we don't bother buying them anymore. Anyway the skipper is from Denmark, and he has the slowest delivery of a joke or an announcement that I have come across. "Good Afternoon..(pause)... ladies and ..(pause)... gentlemen ..(long pause)... This is the captain speaking ..(pause)... from the bridge ..(pause)... it is 12 o'clock ..(pause)... noon" and so on. We were all introduced to his senior staff at the cocktail party prior to dinner tonight. He forgot the name of the doctor, probably hasn't seen much of her, she's been rather busy. Its not just the doctor, cabin staff have been delivering more room service than normal (probably to the partners of the afflicted) and there has been quite a lot of extra clearing up. People are telling us about various acts of kindness they have received from the staff today. A little tip: your cabin will have a TV, one of the channels will in daylight give a forward view from the bridge, that will give you a horizon to look at if you can't get on deck and for many will improve how you feel. The photo shows the TV view from the bridge but taken much later when we were safely tied up alongside in the sunshine!
Day 3 Friday - Sunshine. Sometime during the night the wind came around to the North and although it had only started its drop from a force 8 down to a 5 and the sea was still categorised as 'very rough' our course had changed and the motion of the ship improved. To be honest our trip across the Bay of Biscay wasn't as bad as I had prepared myself for but I notice that I didn't take any photographs. So here are a couple from Friday morning.
The second photo shows the area from which the helicopter winched the casulty on Wednesday night, given all the obstructions you can see, not the easiest task. During the night we seemed to have lost a light fitting! Well as these brave souls on deck show all it takes is a little sun and the prospect of lunch from a different venue to get people on deck. The Captains noon message talked of much calmer conditions to follow and he was right. Soon everyone was getting about again.
Perhaps I should give you more idea of a typical day at sea, most of this will be similar on any UK based cruise ship. When you return to your cabin after dinner you find a newsletter detailing all the activities for the next day. As for us that was about 1 am it didn't get more than a cursory glance then. Most cabins have coffee and tea making facilities, although this isn't universal, so when I woke up I clicked on the TV (sound muted) and looked at the view from the bridge, (if there is a view it gives me a clue about the time!) A change of channel to the chart tells us where we are. There are normally a choice of restaurants and the option to eat outdoors. So if its fine and breakfast is started I leave my wife to slumber with or without a cup of tea depending on her level of consciousness and nip off to have an alfresco coffee and light breakfast. It is perfectly possible to return to the cabin, get ready, and hobbit like, go to a restaurant for a proper second breakfast later. The advantage of my foray out is that when I return to the cabin I can give an accurate report of the weather conditions which as we study the days 'events' will determine what we do.
They weren't serving breakfast outside today so after taking in a few laps around the Lido deck (5 times equals a mile and the gym staff supervise a group walk early each morning) I went back to the cabin and reported the weather conditions, after studying the 'Boudicca Times' events letter we had breakfast in the main restaurant, from the buffet rather that being served from the menu, and then went our separate ways. I picked up a quiz sheet and a library book (most ships have a library and an internet cafe) and spent a quiet time before attending a port lecture about Lisbon and Cadiz. Doreen went shopping, shopping? Yes, in fact the larger ships have malls! On smaller ships like Discovery and Boudicca they tend to sell glittery accessories, a small range of evening wear, along with ship souvenirs like mugs hats bags and T shirts, there is normally sections for essentials: pharmacy items, books, sweets and even crisps! What in case you are hungry!! In this case it was a foray for throat sweets as the air con had dried us out, I don't rule out the possibility that Doreen had a good look at the glittery stuff though, as a new pair of earrings appeared at about that time. She watched the port lecture from our cabin. These port lectures vary in quality and on some ships are an undisguised hard sell for the ships tours. Indeed the tour manager gave the talks on this trip but I thought she gave out a fair bit of information about how you could proceed ashore on your own. I then went on deck took some photos and we met up before lunch in a forward lounge, where a pianist who rejoiced in the name of Theng Theng Thong sat playing for a while, as we sat looking at the view with the sun flooding in.
After lunch we went our separate ways Doreen for some sun and to attend a fitness presentation, me to have a read before meeting up at 3pm to attend a dance class. On cruises there is always some sort of dancing taught. There are also mysterious people called dance hosts who shuffle round the dance floor with those without partners. Now I don't find dancing that easy, mainly because having attended lots of lessons at home I realise how bad I am, so I am more bashful about demonstrating my lack of skill. However on a ship that is lurching about even the professionals have difficulty so we are all reduced to being inept. We were taught a dance that you won't see on Strictly Come Dancing but which will work for just about any slow tune that isn't a waltz so that was OK actually its one I remember so it was a stroll apart from turning corners on the small dance floor.
Later that afternoon went to a quiz, that's also a common theme of all cruises, on Boudicca there were often three sessions a day. Warning, although the prize is something like a keyring, people do this with a passion and there is normally at least one group cheating! They also argue about the answers, sometimes even the questions. It can be very hard for say a Croatian or Thai member of the entertainment staff asking questions about which they probably know nothing, say about Coronation Street or Harold Wilson, especially if there are misprints or the question is ambiguous. I much prefer the daily quiz sheet with no prizes, a crossword and a couple of sudoku on the back, however on that day having only managed two answers on the quiz sheet on a first run through, we managed to get the second highest score in the live quiz.
At some point, probably just before the dance class, I eavesdropped on part of another lecture, this time it was about wines and wine tasting and was a precursor of a wine tasting session that you could pay a nominal charge (£5) to be part of. As well as dance there are always some skills that you can learn on a cruise. On this cruise we also had a bridge teacher and a golf pro - only the drive taught presumably - and a water colourist all giving lessons at various times and that is a typical mix for all cruises. Ships vary on what they offer and what activities you have to pay for, previously I have enjoyed cocktail making lessons, skeet shooting, and even a water colour class. There is also the one off fun things like napkin folding and making paper flowers and yes I've done those as well.
We avoided afternoon tea, it is in my view essential to miss some meals, if you don't you will put on around a pound a day during your trip, I have read that some put on a kilo a day! Even if your ship doesn't have a 24hr restaurant there is normally no hour in the day when you can't get food and at night there is cabin service. Norovirus is a huge risk on cruise ships so there is normally someone to see that you use the supplied hand cleanser on your approach to the restaurant or servery. On this ship there are two sittings for dinner 6.30 and 8.30, we are on the second one which gives us much more time especially if you have been ashore so a snack at tea time isn't always ruled out. However we never went to the buffet served between 11 and midnight, honest. That night was to be casual but with a theme, in this case a 'British night', which they helpfully advised us was about wearing red white and blue (other nationalities and colours acceptable). There are normally dress rules in the restaurants that apply at all times, like no bare chests or swimsuits but this depends on the ship. I prefer it that they are strict about this, even just for the sake of aesthetics, some people obviously do not look in the mirror! This ten night cruise had two formal, five casual (three of which were themed) and three informal nights, which they tell you about before you board so you can bring appropriate clothes. I'm not a great fan of fancy dress but putting on a blue and white shirt and wearing a pair of reddish trousers didn't seem too much of an imposition. Actually all this dressing up is easier for the women. From 'casual to formal all ladies really need is something smart and long then add bling as appropriate. Men have to have different stuff for each. Anyway off to dinner then as a group we went to a quiz and just made it to the show. Its really nice when the whole table does stuff together. We went to a lounge where a duo played until midnight and then the DJ until 1 or so. A full day.
Day 4 Saturday - Lisbon. We approached Lisbon in the dark but as I compared our position with the map we had been given, I became aware that we weren't going to berth where the port lecture had indicated. Not that it really matters but I just like to know where I am. Apart from a brief announcement that the local custom and immigration procedures had been completed there were few announcements. I like that, on other ships the departure of each tour was announced along with all sorts of trivia. Here they treat you like adults if you are on a tour your ticket says where you should meet and when, and unless there is a problem that's all you hear. There was a shuttle available from the quay entrance to the town centre so as soon as it was announced we made our way ashore through two lots of security. Your cabin card is linked to a photo of you on the ships security computer so as you enter and leave the ship you are looked at and booked in and out. When you return any hand luggage purchases etc are x rayed. To various degrees this is also carried out by the port authorities shore side. This was the first time I had been to Portugal but Doreen had stayed in Lisbon for a few days not long ago, so she was our guide. Of course one day ashore doesn't give you much more than a brief taste of a city much less of a country so its all about first impressions.
We took an open topped bus around the city getting off about half way around, so that we could walk back to the city centre on a route through the old town, that an online travel guide had suggested, isn't Lisbon hilly and devoid of public toilets? So we did what everyone else does and went to coffee shops and bars for rest and the use of their loos. I had wanted to find a nice restuarant and have sardines for lunch but in the limited time available couldn't find sardines on anyone's menu. Still we had a really lovely day in the sun.
Our time in Lisbon is short, the ship is due to leave at 5pm and we have to be onboard by 4.15pm. If you are on a tour organised by the ship and your bus is late they wait for you if you are on your own they don't, so we tend to get back early. What was nice about sailing away at 5pm was that there was plenty to see as we left, and our impressions? Already planning to go back to Lisbon with the van but I'm pretty sure we won't be driving the hilly streets near the town centre.
I've just realised that I've made all those mentions of our cabin, but no photos of it. I'll remedy that here, these were taken later a couple of days later in the voyage but we've still got our flags from Friday's British Night.
Day 5 Sunday - Cadiz Its time for another moan and then some wishful thinking. The moan is about ship's shore tours, not just this ship, its a general complaint. Before we sailed Fred Olsen Cruise Lines sent us a book of all the tours they run and there was one we definitely wanted to do, the coach trip to Marrakech from Casablanca and we booked that before we set sail, just to be sure we got it, I will talk about that later. For the other ports we thought that we would do our own thing. One reason is that experience has taught us the tours are expensive, not always good value and if any walking is involved you are tied into the speed/agility of the slowest. If you are going to do your own thing then you should prepare. Nowadays the internet gives you plenty of 'free' information and for each port I assembled bits and pieces and took a print out. Your cruise ship will probably give you a free port guide, perhaps as on Boudicca a single sheet of paper with a map. In part one I mentioned the port lectures, you can of course take notes, plus the tours that they offer list and describe some of the places that you can easily get to as well.
So assuming you have done your homework leaving the ship and doing it yourself is certainly an option and having done it in Belize, Ecuador and Argentina thought that Spain and Portugal wouldn't be a problem either, nor was it, the only problem was that we were seduced/misled by the port lecture for Cadiz and to be honest compared with Lisbon and Malaga I had skimped on the preparation. So after going to the lecture we booked on a trip to Jerez from Cadiz to go on a visit to the Gonzales Byass Bodega (Tio Pepe). One thing that lured us in was that 'when you arrive the first thing you do is board a train to take you through the cellars to see all the Sherry casks' or words to that effect. Well it was to be an afternoon excursion so I'll back track a bit to the early hours of the morning.
When you go from Portugal to Spain in the summer the clocks have to go forward 2 hours. So after the show on Saturday night and an exhausting day in Lisbon, we only spent a little time in the Lido bar, setting off to our cabin around midnight or two am Spanish time! With losing our two hours I only just made it on deck to see our arrival in the morning. We were adjacent to a container port which I suppose didn't look too bad in the sun
Just in front of us was a larger Italian cruise ship the Costa Something or other, with some modern buildings in the background. We were assured that the town was only a short walk away but it didn't look too attractive from our vantage point so given that we had only ay most six hours of sleep we whiled away the morning on board. What we hadn't seen was a small exit for foot passengers just opposite the Costa Whatever.
When our time came for the Jerez trip we got into our coach and the first part of the trip was around the old town on the coast road our route shown with red arrows on the map below. From our coach we could see that the whole area of the old town is delightful and all within easy walking distance of Boudicca and we so easily could have spent the morning or perhaps even the whole day exploring at our leisure.
From the old town we drove quickly through the new town and then crossed by the new causeway past Peurto Real where our guide came from, to the A4 and on to Jerez. It was not a pretty route, true there were some herons and some flamingos but by and large it was boring. Our guide seemed knowledgeable but my main memory of her was the argument she had with our guide at the Bodega. We have no idea what it was about but it started from the moment we met the Tio Pepe guide (an extremely plain woman she reminded me of the farmer's wife, Mrs Tweedy, in the cartoon 'Chicken Run'), from the tone and body language neither was happy, it lasted off and on until by the time we saw our video some degree of rapprochement had been achieved! There was no train instead we waited about for a while looking at some pictures of the rich and famous signing their names on the casks. Then we got to see some sherry casks then some more larger casks and we were told how the new sherry was mixed with the old then we saw a video explaining the same thing then we saw some more casks and then the casks that had been signed. We then went and had some tapas and quite a lot of sherry then we were herded into the shop. Most of what we saw could have been gleaned from their website (see link at the end) and it is clear from their tour info that we missed out quite a bit. You'll have to go to their website to read about the sozzled mouse.
The best bit of the trip apart from seeing a full blown Spanish argument was when the tour guide from the other coach took all who wanted to for an unscheduled little walk around part of Jerez next to the bodega.
We had a 'character' on the coach, an older lady with one of those wheeled zimmer frame things, who needless to say was the one we had to wait for at each cask viewing opportunity. She however had over-imbibed at the sherry tasting (well if you were quick you could easily drink a third of a bottle of sherry - I know I did) anyway she spent the whole of the return trip apologising to everyone and delivering intimate but loud confidences such as 'I've lost my husband, he was bisexual.....'. Anyway she livened up the otherwise boring return trip. I must have been a bit tipsy as well as I persuaded Doreen that I would buy her a half litre of their best brandy which cost me 38€. The people who just walked around Cadiz said how nice it was and how cheap the sherry was in the supermarket.
Time for one last moan, when you bring alcohol on board they quarantine it for you so it doesn't effect your shipboard alcohol purchasing! When two coaches come back from an organised sherry trip, you would think that they would put extra staff on duty at the top of the gangway to assist with the collection of the booze. No, upon arrival at the top of the gangway, you had to fill out a form (there was only one biro) and hand the form and the drink to the guy who was responsible for the x-raying and security.
No hours to be lost or gained tonight so after we went on our own for a fantastic indian meal in a different restaurant tonight we then re-joined our regular table people, saw the show and danced to the duo in the Lido and then went out on deck to see the lighthouse at Europa Point, Gibraltar which we passed at around 11.30 then back to the disco.
Day 6 Monday - Malaga Once the formalities were over we went ashore. Malaga port is being extended, the berth was very new, and we were two shuttle buses and a security checkpoint away from the port entrance, although the first ride was only a few hundred yards, straight away I didn't feel too good, it was already very warm and humid, it could have been the late nights or the alcohol but I nearly went straight back to the ship. We waited in the shade for an open topped bus and went by a circular route up the steep gradient to the Gibralfaro castle, by the time we had wobbled and lurched back down to the town I was more than ready to get off.
After that bus ride we took things a little easier and enjoyed the remainder of our time in Malaga seeking out shade which there was lots of in the older parts of the city dropping in for a coffee, walking along narrow lanes etc.
Narrow Lanes and Four-Way Junction
We had hoped to meet a friend of Doreen's who lives nearby in Fuengirola but we had to be back aboard by 4pm and she couldn't get away from her work in Marbello until 2pm so it we called it off, and went back to the ship and I was sufficiently recovered from the mornings wobbles to not bother with the 2nd shuttle. The resident band came out on deck to provide music for a 'sail away' party.
We passed Gibraltar as the sun was setting around 8pm ships time. Now we had done three shore trips in three days so after the show we were going to get an early night before the big day in Morocco but the clocks were going back 2 hours tonight so we would have been getting to bed far too early. We didn't stay for the disco, though I had a couple of medicinal whiskies.
I haven't mentioned this before but on board you pay with your security card and so you run up a 'bar bill' which also includes any other ship board purchases. We had registered a credit card against the account so unless there were any discrepancies that we wished to challenge we didn't have to do anything. Our copies of he bar and purchase slips we threw into a drawer. Tonight they presented us with an interim account so we spent ten minutes or so auditing it against the bar slips emptying the drawer and filling the waste bin, no mistakes. One of the charming waitresses had mentioned when I ordered my first Highland Park that they also had a 16 year old and it was now cheaper than the 12 y/o shown on the drinks menu.
I know not why, but it very quickly got around the waiters that I had the 16y/o, no ice, no water. For any malt whisky experts reading this I wasn't exactly sure that the 16 y/o was 'better' than the 12 but didn't do a comparison. Having researched it on my return, I now find that the 16 y/o is an export only version and is generally scored lower than the 12, ah well.
Day 7 Tuesday - Casablanca and Marrakech This is the main event, so we were disappointed to learn that we would be leaving Casablanca two hours earlier than scheduled. Our trip was supposed to take around 13 hours and now the ship was only going to be in Casablanca 12 hours. When I queried this I was told no it was always intended that the trip would be 10 hours and nothing would be 'left out'. Well Casablanca and Marrakech are about 3-3.30 hours apart so that leaves only 3-4 hours in Marrakech. Well I dislike being lied to. The trip in the official book says 13 hours and guess what the tour office handout said, 13 hours, as did the port lecturer, and I looked over the shoulder of the tour lady and guess what it said at the top of the page? We were paying £78 pounds each for this excursion so I wasn't a happy bunny.
Hassan II Mosque
Anyway it was a bleak morning as we approached Casablanca, the huge Mosque towers over all the other buildings, some of which are probably eight or ten stories high, its minaret at 210 meters high is the tallest in the world and it cost $800 million, all raised by public subscription. The docks and the ships moored up looked dirty and downtrodden huge clouds of powder (phosphate?) hung over some loading operations. We were a long time manoeuvring between moored ships whilst going astern for much of the way and in the end about an hour after we entered the harbour, we squeezed in behind another larger cruise ship to moor. This was about the time we should have been getting in to our coach. Immigration/Customs kept the ship waiting another hour before they turned up to complete the formalities. Welcome to Africa!
Casablanca and it's Suburbs
We had a female guide whose first announcement was that she was single, her second was don't take photographs of the docks or policemen. I have no way of knowing if all the facts she regaled us were accurate but she kept telling us stuff all the way to Marrakech, so she seemed good value as a guide, not sure about as a wife though. Casablanca, the little we saw of it through the coach windows, was a juxtaposed mixture of new, old and shanty the latter being distinguished by each hovel having a satellite dish, goats roamed freely in the suburbs. Once we got out of the city we got on to a wide modern road that for a long time passed through flat fairly featureless farmland. Morocco is self sufficient in carrots we learned. We then climbed a moderate incline for a long time before reaching another plain but this time we were ringed by the High Atlas mountains. We stopped in a modern services for a mint tea (very sweet) with extra sugar available or a coffee small strong and gritty. Each glass had a paper napkin folded into a cone which I suggested was to filter the tea leaves, it performed that function well enough. When we went to pour a second glass we found the handle of the teapot too hot to touch so perhaps it was to hold the pot, I think we were on a secret camera and the TV watchers in Morocco howled with laughter at the antics of the tourists, perhaps they will post the clip on YouTube.
Compared with our slow rise from Casablanca the descent into Marrakech was shorter and seemed steeper Marrakech is 450m above sea level, or just over two Hassan II minarets high. We had seen single story Berber villages dotted around the plains and hills for some time and had got used to the terracotta colour of their adobe walls but as we approached the city terracotta was everywhere. As well as learning about the separate races and cultures that populated the city we also learnt about male and female date palms. The erect ones are male the curvy ones are female, no change there then.
We spent a lot of time in Marrakech getting on and off our coach and proceeding in a crocodile formation behind our guide, I think it was too rushed, although that said, when we were left just to look around I took a few snaps and was ready to be moved on. My main impression was of a lot of people bustling about in a seeming great hurry whilst an equal number sat around doing nothing. There were beggars but nothing like as many as on Waterloo or Hungerford bridges in London. It was a lot like Istanbul. Of course we were tourists and were in tourist areas. We had been prepared for danger especially in the markets but although it felt edgy I don't know how much of that was due to our pre-conditioning. Again we had been 'lumbered' with someone with restricted mobility and by the end of the day was thinking uncharitable thoughts about her. I'm not sure what the answer is but having us wait all the time for someone to catch up is not fair on either the disabled or the fit. The advance tour briefing was quite specific about the level of fitness required, but given the age of some of the people on the ship who didn't think they could manage this tour and went instead to something in Casablanca, I think a tour with less activity could have also been arranged to give everyone a chance at Marrakech.
Our major stop was lunch, (we had had a couple of earlier photo opportunities) and we were led into a typical tour restaurant. You meet them wherever cruise ships disgorge their coachloads, a set lunch with some ethnic entertainment. No ordinary people frequent these places and its all a little contrived. The food was bland and just vegetarian or chicken to cater for old and fragile stomachs. No lambs brains or balls of either variety nor any other odd bits. The entertainment started with some musicians who were good then three large ladies sang and danced, I hope that what they did was authentic. I would hate to think that I had sat through it if it wasn't. I did enjoy the meal and liked the belly dancer, enough to fill her bra with a fiver's worth of the heavier coins that I had received at the rest stop. Unfortunately most others put in folding money.
There was one little lane that we went up and down at least three times on our way to the coach, we then had to walk on the side of a small road where two way traffic horse carts and pedestrians vied for life. A two horse cart and a 4x4 came into close proximity, as one horse shied the other one neatly crossed its forelegs and gave a resounding kick to a body panel, Horse 1 Nissan 0. Later on our coach driver knocked someone off his moped as we attempted a three point turn. Nearby there was a mosque minaret and on top a stork on its nest. The good citizens of Ribe in Denmark who have been without storks for three years need to get down here for some negotiations. The three balls on the mosque represent the three monotheist, Abrahamic, religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
We were on our way to a mausoleum and graveyard, the main tomb was that of Ahmad al-Mansur the 6th Sultan of Morocco who died in 1603. Now I have seen Islamic art before and I thought it was OK but not a patch on the Topkapi palace in Istanbul. However, later we were taken to the grand Vizier's apartments in the Bahia palace and the ceilings were as ornate and perhaps more beautiful than Topkapi.
Before the palace came a purchasing opportunity which we largely declined however when we waiting for the big spenders to come out we bought a postcard and watched a cart tyre repair carried out by lacing the tyre with iron wire we also watched some more storks.
Our last visit in Marrakech was to the market Djemaa el Fna. The only problem with that is that its basically a night market so at 5pm when were getting back to our coach it was still just starting up. There were some snake charmers and water sellers and the odd story teller and the permanent stalls around the edge of the huge market area in place, but there was a lot of empty space, so all in all rather less exotic than we were expecting. We went to a cafe which had a roof terrace to take the panoramic shot. Some years after we came back home a terrorist bomb killed people at the cafe from where we took our elevated photographs.
Djemaa el Fna
Two last images from Morocco. The ubiquitous open topped bus (its the same firm as in London Edinburgh etc etc) and a Berber village from the coach as we climbed out of Marrakech, the setting sun makes it the first one that stood out from its surroundings. Most of us slept on the way back, it had been exhausting, but out of the 11 hours or so, how much had we actually seen? Really only the slightest of tasters but very glad we went.
Wednesday - At Sea The next day we were at sea all day, a chance to recharge our batteries after four shore days in a row. A lot of the people we spoke to would have preferred to give up a Spanish port and get extra time in Morocco, all the tours were a bit hectic apparently. Today the biggest excitement was slowly overhauling a tanker and a container ship. Tans were being seriously topped up, there's no point going south in October unless you come back with a tan. Tonight was the worse show we saw. What is it about cruise directors? They all seem to have come from an entertainment background but seem to think they can still do it. You have to know when to give up. It must be depressing for any mediocre young member of the show cast to see what happens to those that don't make it, big time. He was accompanied by the magician and the comedian but I've grown fed up of them as well.
Day 9 Thursday - Vigo We are only in Vigo for half a day and again it seemed an irrelevance. Although Vigo has some old bits it was quite a modern place. A chance to see a C&A again or an H&M (ladies will know what I mean) well we went ashore and walked around it seemed a nice place to shop if you were in your motorhome in this part of the world, but a cruise ship destination, no not really. Nice islands surrounding the harbour though.
Tonight was a gala event first of all there was the pre-dinner cocktail, with the skipper making another agonisingly slow joke, then off to dinner in our DJs and posh frocks and then to the show lounge, where first of all the head chef introduced twelve of his heads of sections. I noticed that the man responsible for the Indian meals and the Pastry chef got extra ovations. I found the food a bit patchy, the set pieces were good, the fish never very special, the little tarts and petit fours were excellent , the normal buffet meals unvaried, the Indian desserts outstanding. He was drumming up support for the midnight gala buffet, well we like others, went to see it and took pictures but didn't partake. Then it was time for the Crew's show, apparently a feature of Fred Olsens ships. If last night was the worse show then this was the best by far and I hope the regular show people realised it. One of the highlights was a lad from the engine department who sang a duet with himself, half dressed in coveralls half in a cabin stewardesses uniform, he had an excellent voice in both registers. Another highlight was the admin boss and the IT boss singing a very difficult duet from Miss Saigon. They got the longest applause but we had Thai and Filipino dancing and a dance off between the deck department (in the Navy) and the engine department (Sex Bomb). The clapping continued for two encores. Then we all went off to view the buffet then more dancing. Our little group was amongst the last to bed.
Day 10 Friday - At Sea Well after your glad rags are packed away its always a bit of an anti-climax, well it was always bound to go downhill from Casablanca. We had another excellent day at sea though. So looking back at this short cruise how does it compare. Well it was cheaper in £ per day than any of our others. We had a very good time but a lot of that was down to the people we met and the energy we put into it. The couple who were on their first cruise and who after a couple of days weren't too sure about cruising had collected the Fred Olsen cruise booklet for next year, by the time we got to Vigo. So all in all I'll give it 7/10, and as I hear the Black Prince (Olsen's smallest) is going to do its farewell cruise next autumn, I might just give them another chance.
Day 11 Saturday - Disembarkation Southampton When I woke up I thought the bridge camera was out of focus then I realised it was fog. There we were tied up in Southampton. The End.