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Brazil, Uruguay & Argentina

December 17, 2010 Leave a comment
6 to 10 December 2010

 

First bridge our ship went under - Vittoria, Brazil

The beautiful 'Lady' at the port bar!

We reached Vittoria in Brazil at around 1600 hrs by navigating around the river for an hour and passing through the first – very high – bridge our ship went under! Vittoria looked beautiful from the ship and we spent 4 very short hours there – at 4 bars (at the Bermuda Triangle!) and drank Caipirinha’s and an entire bottle of Cachaca! I don’t remember getting back to the ship but was told next morning that they dropped me off and went back out til 0430 partying in the ladies’ bar just off the port! That’s where Craig met his muse – he took some pictures of this girl he really liked and even told her she was beautiful. The next morning, Andrea told Craig that the same girl was actually a man! Here is a photo….

We sailed from Vittoria early in the morning and reached Rio Da Janeiro the next day. Saw the famous Copacabana beach in the evening where people were playing volleyball, jogging and exercising. The waves were so huge that they would have pulled you under if you dipped your toe in the water! After Copacabana, we headed Santa Teresa which is a hilly neighbourhood full of bars and restaurants. Unfortunately as we were getting there, one of our party took a turn for the worse and I escorted him back to the ship stopping the taxi 2-3 times so he could visit the Banos!

Looking out at Santos

After Rio, we didn’t expect to be wowed much and until we got to Montevideo, this was true! We stopped in Santos next and wandered around the old part of the town and had a lovely lunch in a Cantina run by a Brazilian couple who lived in South London til a year ago!

Leaving Santos by boat was interesting in that we got to see pretty much the entire island as we sailed south. Santos is huge – it’s the biggest port in S America and
one that serves Sao Paolo, which in itself is one of the top populated cities in the world. AS we had limited time, we only saw the old part of the
town around the port area, which, though charming in an old tumbling down kind of way, was a little grotty. As we sailed out, we went past the
obviously richer part of Santos full of architect designed houses, swanky bars and fast cars – called Gonzaga.

Market in Montevideo

As we left Brazil for our next stop – Montevideo in Uruguay – there was a definite feel of the journey coming to an end as after Uruguay we get into Argentina and even though we stop in Zarate on the way, the stop after would be Buenos Aires. I had hoped to spend more time in Montevideo but the ship’s schedule meant we only had 4 or so hours there. It wasn’t so bad though as the port is right in front of the city centre and could walk straight out into it. Montevideo had such a lovely feel and people were so friendly – definitely a place to go back to. Montevideo is named after a little hill – barely large enough to be called even a hill – which when the explorer who first set foot there thought looked like a fried egg! The old town has lovely colonial buildings which lead up to Plaza Independencia – the centre of the city and the square that divides the old town from downtown. We nearly missed the cathedral. Walked past it a couple of times looking for it but as its a square modernish building, I didn’t expect it to be a place of God or to be called the city cathedral surrounded by much more ornate buildings! ATM machines in Santos give and option to dole out local pesos or US $. It’s a good place to hoard up US$ before getting to Aregntina where you cannot take out US$ from ATMs – in fact in BA ATMs seldom allow more than about a thousand Arg $ in a day (xe = Arg $6 to £1).

Meeting another Grimaldi ship on Rio Piranha

We left Santos and sailed to Argentina. First stop Zarate. This is a tiny place on the Rio Piranha and our ship – which was the largest thing on the narrow river – snaked around for 3 or so hours before we got to Zarate. There was an exciting moment when we passed another Grimaldi ship and they honked at each other. All the passengers from both boats came out and waved merrily at each other!

The third officer asked us whether those without vehicle wanted to get off in Zarate given it’s only about 1 hour from Buenos Aires. We jumped at the chance, though didn’t actually get out of the ship until around 8pm!

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Journey on the Grande Francia

December 8, 2010 2 comments
Saturday 27 November to Monday 6 December

Africa

A bar in Dakar!

Last week and a half has been a long journey with no internet or phone access and pretty much no land or anything else to be seen from the ship. After Dakar in Senegal, we stopped in Conakry (Guinea) – the security level was raised because of the civil rest going on right now and we couldn’t have gone ashore there. We could have gone ashore on Freetown (Sierra Leone) but for the Immigration officer at the port who was missing! Both Conakry and Freetown were sights I have not seen (whatever I could spy from the ship with some binoculars). Great deal of poverty and desolation around in Conakry. From afar when approaching, Freetown seemed like a beautiful European port with houses built all up the slopes from the beaches. When we neared though I saw massive slums built on the shores and out as far as the waves would allow. Great disappointment at not being able to go exploring. Even if the immigration officer had turned up (in which case I would definitely have taken the risk) the ship’s officers and crew advised very strongly against going ashore in Freetown.

 

Offloading cars in Conakry

Cluis looking out at Freetown

Freetown at sunset

Crossing the Equator (02/12/10)

Bridge Dashboard at the Equator

Having been told by the security officer that there is a procedure when crossing the equator, the passengers were quietly confident that there will be a special dinner, or tour if not a party. As we got closer to the equator however, no invitations materialised. In the end we the passengers made our own little drinks evening in the passengers room and at midnight which is when we passed the equator, there was no one left to celebrate so we went up to the bridge and asked the duty officer to show us the latitude/longitude monitor. The night before however the Filipinos had put up quite an impromptu party on the port side with handmade lanterns, a disco ball and  some music. It was a beautiful night with a strong breeze and we all danced till past midnight. If the crew didn’t have to wake up early next morning for Conakry, the party would have gone on till the sun rose.

Gems in the sea

I have never really thought about it before because I have never spent this much time with so much water around me but the sea looks different each day. The colours change and the way the sun reflects on it gives an impression of gems appearing in the ocean. From the murky grey waters full of jellyfish in Freetown to the deep turquoise of the coast in Dakar; from the opaque inky black off the coast of Conakry to the velvet blue of the doldrums. When the sun rises in the east, a giant triangle of gold seems to flow out of it into the sea and to the ship. At sundown – when we have taken to having a ‘sundowner’ with Klaus and Christiane – the sun spills silver all the way to the ship. And in between when the sun is right above me, when I look down at the sea and where the sun hits the water, thousands of diamonds appear. Water’s colour, quality, swell, movement and reflection have never featured very heavily in my thought process before this voyage.

8 days at sea

Impromptu deck party thrown by the crew

Last entire week has been spent in the middle of the ocean with very little to look at. All the wildlife, ships, fishing vessels and anything else disappeared very early last week. Time stopped and at one dinner time, not one of the 11 passengers could say for certain what day of the week it was. Nicolas (the cook) continued to dish out Italian food every lunch and dinner time. We soon worked out the weekly menu – handmade pizza on Saturday, fresh pasta on Tuesdays and Thursdays and beef at each main course. I lie. Yesterday we had crayfish for lunch and chicken for dinner but generally nine times out of ten, we eat beef for the meat course! IN the middle of the 8 days, Marianne and Albrecht started to get cabin fever and after a few days I too felt that I could do with something other than reading and table-tennis. None of the passengers seem to want to play chess/scrabble/cards etc. This boredom was very short-lived (for me anyway) as I put it into perspective. When again will I find myself right in the middle of the Atlantic ocean eating four course meals and glorious sunshine beaming down at me? Talking of the weather, last few days have been really blustery. Strong enough winds to hold you in its arms should you want to give it a a go and fall on it. Careful though that a strong blast doesn’t slap you on the deck on your face! I miss a few things already though, apart from friends, what I most miss is food. There is such a lack of variety of it onboard as Nicolas only cooks Italian fare and as much as I love ITalian food, it’s beginning to loose its appeal. Not to mention the daily consumption of beef – I don’t know if I will be able to enjoy the superior Argentianian variety for a few weeks after I get off.

Apartment in BA

After a number of emails backwards and forwards to the agent in Buenos Aires and losing the original apartment (could not send deposit from the ship as it needed to be Western Union transfer), we have managed to confirm an apartment in Palermo. Looks good from the photos but will have a better idea once in there!

Approaching S America

Just finished lunch and went out on the deck and I can see the outline of land. Welcome to South America. We will hug the coast line till we reach Vittoria. Very exciting. Three weeks and as many continents!

Life on the Grande Francia

November 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Saturday 20 November 2010

Me on the upper deck

I haven’t written anything other than a quick update on the blog in the past 6 days on this ship. Besides with two stops – Antwerp and Le Havre, there was much activity and excitement of getting off the ship to warrant much thought process. Now on the first long-haul, I stood on the lower deck looking out at the English Channel and just spotted Jersey in the distant. And instead of feeling how large the world is, it struck me how small it really is. We are covering a large distance on this voyage, North to South, taking in three continents and eight countries, but somehow looking out at the ocean and especially listening to fellow passengers who have a much more impressive list of countries they have visited, I feel the world is really quite small. Whether we fly, or drive, or like me now, sail, one can reach the furthest corners of this planet relatively easily and with considerable luxury if one can afford it. Luxury doesn’t only relate to one’s sleeping quarters, or indeed food and entertainment on board, but also the time taken in completing that journey. When the Concorde was still flying, people spent very large sums of cash to get to New York in a shorter time than jumbo jet would take them. I am spending more money than it used to cost to fly on the Concorde to get to Argentina extremely slowly – in fact less than 20 noughts per hour. And I am loving every minute of it!

Very early this morning we left Le Havre for a 5-6 day journey to Dakar. We were scheduled to stop at Casablanca and Bilbao but such are the schedules of a shipping company that they might vary to include or leave behind scheduled stops. It’s a shame because I have never visit Casablanca or Bilbao and certainly at the latter, I was looking forward to visiting the Guggenheim museum. Never mind. Another time.

It’s now six days since we left Tilbury docks and life on the ship is punctuated by food. I have still not got used to waking up at 0700 since I finished work. But if I want breakfast I must visit the mess between 0730 and 0830, otherwise I can forget about the yummy tomato bread. Which is not a disaster because lunch is served at 1100 sharp. Breakfast is the only meal in the day which is not served by the steward Francesco, and instead is a buffet. Whilst the guests eat, Francesco cleans our rooms. Each day at breakfast, there is this lovely tomato bread which only Christiane and I like to eat. The others feel it is too much like pizza and hence not worthy of a breakfast look-in. Since a couple of days ago, the chef has added an onion bread to the basket. I now have a preference for the onion bread over the tomato bread which again the other guests find inappropriate for mornings! Other than the two types of bread, there are also plain bread rolls, one type of cold sliced ham, this morning we had mortadella, yesterday we had Napoli salami, the day before a parma ham. There is also butter, jam, cereal, tea and coffee. But no cheese, no fruit, no yoghurt and no juice! This astounds me for two reasons. One, because the chef calls this a continental breakfast which I would translate to have cheese and juice included. And two because there is so much care in the pulling together of the menu for the other two meals.

Nocolas - The ship's cook

Today, after the gruelling exercise (read military fitness) regime which someone (!) has put us on I forgot that lunch was at 1100, thereby arriving at the mess about 5 minutes late. The starter had already been served and the guests were halfway through the divine mussel risotto. 1100 is way too early for me to even consider what I might want for lunch, let alone to be sat down and served the first course, usually a pasta dish on the dot at 1100!

The chef, Nicolas – a Neapolitan, sporting the most amazing sideburns I have ever seen – has never turned out a bad pasta dish. The pasta course is usually very simple, fussily with basil, penne with tomato sauce, spaghetti with broccoli. The last was my favourite – simple, elegant and yet full of flavour! Today, perhaps because it’s a weekend, we had risotto for our first course. Perfectly cooked, al dente arborio rice cooked in fish stock and spiked with mussels, nobody could fault the loveliness of it. As soon as you have finished your plate of food, Francesco will whip away your plate, even if others at the table are still eating. As soon as everyone at the table has finished the pasta course, the second course is served. Usually this is fish. Today it was poached salmon with garlic, lemon and parsley. Yesterday we had a beautifully grilled red fish. After fish there is a meat course, almost always beef (as with dinner!). Today the thinly sliced beef had a piece of bacon on top of it, and in my opinion only just passing the test to be called a saltimbocca. I declined because even though I am doing 45 minutes of training each month, four courses at each meal is beyond the ability of my stomach’s digestibility! The menu always says vegetables (contorni) after this course which always means a bowl of chopped lettuce. This is followed by a piece of fruit and coffee. In the evening, well 1800 hours we are served dinner, always with a 330ml bottle of wine for each person (we get the same at lunch time!). This wine isn’t chosen for its appropriateness to the menu created by Nicolas, nor even to whether we have fish or red meat on the menu, but to the availability on the ship. The first 4 days on the ship we had red meat for second piatti at every meal but the wine was white in a little carton such as one you would drink juice out of in the UK. Last few days, we have seen red wine in a glass bottle. If like me, you want a little more wine with your meal and for later, a full sized bottle is only €6.50 per bottle – phew!

Sample menu

Read more…

Machines and locks!

November 17, 2010 5 comments

I never realised how huge some of the machinery in ports can be! In our ship, there are a dozen CATs (not the fluffy kind) being transported to somewhere along the way. Now, I know I am not tall but standing straight my head comes up to the hub cap of one of these beasts! 

All day and evening yesterday we stayed in the boat on our journey from Tilbury to Antwerp. We were due to arrive in Antwerp and dock by 1700. Because of the thick fog, we only docked by about 2100. By that time, we decided it was a little too late to venture out into the city given that the port is a little way away – it is the second largest port in Europe after Rotterdam!

After dinner, I went for a little reading and a little snooze after looking out of my porthole and seeing nothing because of the thick fog we were in. Last I saw anything out of the ship – we were in the middle of the sea. When I woke up, I looked out of the window and immediately knew I must be dreaming for I could see trees right outside and road running at the bottom of the ship (I am on the 12th deck). I rubbed my eyes and looked over to where Craig was snoozing, and went to woke him up. We both looked out, and realised we must be in the lock. The ship was less than a metre away from the lock embankment. It was so surreal to be on such a big ocean liner and find yourself as though on a narrow country lane! I am constantly amazed at how these massive cargo ships are manouvered into such narrow waterways!

The wheel is as big as me!

A big monster of a machine

Miscellaneous machines on the lower deck

The 'Smiler' with his pick-up

Onboard the Grande Francia leaving at 1800

November 15, 2010 2 comments

Left the house at 1200 and the lovely Easterine dropped us right at the ship! No one asked for ID or ticket and we were escorted straight to our suite!

Me on the Grande Francia ay Tilbury Docks

Our steward introduced himself as Elberto and gave us a grand tour. There are decks at three levels, some filled with cargo but plenty of deckchairs for sunbathing! Elberto then took us around to see the day room with TV/DVD player, sofas, little library and games. The gym has a pool table, table football, press benches, and exercise bikes. The dining room has a rectangular table for the officers with the captain’s chair at the head and two round tables for passengers! There are laundry and pantry rooms too.

The suite is amazing and has everything anyone can ever need including the only bathtub on the boat! The rooms are actually a very good size and has a fridge. So I might pocket up some chocalates in Antwerp an cheese in France.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are at 0730, 1100 and 1800 each day and all served in the dining room. I spied the menu for tonight and it’s four courses with wine. Extra wine is only €6.50 a bottle!

Heading to Tilbury docks for the grand voyage!

November 15, 2010 2 comments

The final send off - Herne Hill

It was great to see so many friends all afternoon and evening yesterday. Thanks also to my brother, his wife  and cousin who came over to South London from quite far away! I still feel drunk from all the wine and Jaegermeisters and have a dull sort of a headache!

Can’t wait to open a bottle of champagne as soon as entering the suite on the Grande Francia! I will have limited access to internet in the next 30 days but will update this with news as soon as possible. Probably in a couple of days from Antwerp! Love you and will miss you all! xxx

Grande Francia is late!

November 10, 2010 1 comment

Grande Francia

I called up the port manager at Tilbury docks to confirm that the later sailing date of 14th Nov is now confirmed and he told me that she will now not set sail til next Monday! So, yet another day of winter to bear in London but a welcome one as not started packing yet!

Now, if I could just decide which of the multitude of malaria tablets, seasickness pills, murder mystery games and shoes to take with me!

Someone told me that only one in a hundred actually suffers from seasickness. I wonder if this is true??

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