I have been to … South Street Seaport, Pier 17, New York

The South Street Seaport is on the East River side of Manhattan in and around Pier 17. The area has been designated an historic district and features some of the oldest restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in New York. The Seaport forms part of America’s National Maritime Museum, and was designated as such by Congress in 1998.

Amongst the renovated and restored vessels on display at the Seaport are:

  • Wavertree (1885): a fully rigged cargo ship
  • Peking (1911): a four-masted barque
  • W O Decker (1930): a tug
  • Ambrose (1908): a lightship

Wavertree

The Wavertree was built in Southampton, England, in 1885 for R.W. Leyland & Company, who were based in Liverpool (Wavertree is a district in Liverpool). She was one of the last large sailing ships built of wrought iron and was originally used to transport jute between India and Scotland.

Within two years of being launched Wavertree was switched to carrying general cargo and she remained a sailing ‘tramp’ until 1910, when she was dis-masted off Cape Horn. As a result she was sold to new owners who used her as a floating warehouse at Punta Arenas, Chile. In 1947 she was converted to become a sand barge, and she remained as such until she was bought in 1968 by the South Street Seaport Museum and restored.

Peking

Peking was built in 1911 by Blohm & Voss, Hamburg, for F Laeisz. The owners intended her to be used to carry nitrates from Chile to Europe. The ship was interned during World War I and handed over to Italy as reparations … but she was then re-sold to her original owners who kept her in service until 1932.

She was then sold to become a children’s home and training school and was moored at Greenhithe (on the River Thames) and later Chatham (on the River Medway). During her service in this role she was named Arethusa II, although during World War II she was requisitioned by the Royal Navy to serve as an accommodation ship and was re-named HMS Peking. After the war she resumed her role as a children’s home and training school, and in 1975 she was sold and became part of the South Street Seaport Museum’s collection of historic ships.

  • Displacement: 3,100 tons
  • Length: 320 feet
  • Beam: 45 feet 7 inches
  • Draft: 16 feet
  • Sail Area: 44,132 square feet

W O Decker

The wooden-hulled W O Decker began life as the Russell I. She was built at Long Island City in 1930 for the Newtown Creek Towing Company, and was renamed W O Decker when she was sold in 1946 to the Staten Island-based Decker Towing Company. In 1968 she was sold to Dock Incorporated of Stratford, Connecticut, and was renamed the Susan Dayton.

She was originally powered by a steam engine, but was re-engined with a diesel engine later during her service. The Susan Dayton was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum in 1986 when she was retired from regular towing duties and renamed W O Decker.

  • Tonnage: 27 tons
  • Length: 52 feet
  • Beam: 15 feet
  • Draft: 6 feet

Ambrose

The Ambrose (LV87) was built 1908 and served as such until 1932. She then served at a number of other locations (with appropriate new names) until she was retired by the US Coast Guard in 1964. In 1968 she was given to the South Street Seaport Museum, and in 1989 she was declared a National Historic Landmark.

Whilst we were visiting South Street Seaport a New York Police Department river patrol boat came alongside the pier, and two of the patrol officers came ashore …

… to buy donuts … just like they are supposed to do in the films and on TV!

I would not have believed it if I had not seen it with my own eyes.


I have been to … the United States of America and Canada

Some time ago my wife and I decided that during 2013 we would take a cruise to North America. Earlier this year the opportunity arose for us to go during 2012 … at a cost that was almost half of the original price. Never ones to turn down a genuine bargain, we booked the only remaining cabin that was on offer at the much reduced price … and a result we were back in Southampton boarding P&O’s MV Aurora less than three weeks after we had disembarked from MV Arcadia.

Sunday 2nd September: Southampton
We left home at just after 9.00am, and made good time as far as Winchester Services, where we stopped for brunch at 10.40am. We rejoined the motorway after our break, but very soon afterwards the traffic began to build up, and by the time we reached the turn-off for the road towards Southampton Docks we were in a slow-moving traffic jam. There appeared to be no reason for this, but it slowed our progress to such an extent that we did not arrive at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal until just before midday. (We subsequently discovered that the traffic jam was the result of it being Sunday morning [the road to the docks passes the local branch of IKEA and the main parking for the West Quay Shopping Mall], that there were two other cruise ships in dock besides MV Aurora, and the local football team – Southampton United – were playing Manchester United at home!)

Once we had reached the Terminal we unloaded our luggage, checked our car in with the valet parking service, and made our way through to the priority embarkation point. We were swiftly checked in and made our way to the security checkpoint … where we were delayed for a further twenty five minutes thanks to a couple of passengers who had not read the security notices, and who had packed their hand luggage with no thought to the possibility that it might need to be searched. Both the passengers had laptop computers, Kindles and Swiss Army penknives. The laptops and the Kindles had to be scanned separately … and had been packed at the bottom of their hand luggage, with the result that their hand luggage – all six bags of it(!) – had to be unpacked. It was at this point that the penknives were discovered, and this required specific permission from the Ship’s Security Team that they could be brought onboard as well as a signed declaration by each of the passengers. Whilst all of this was taking place no other passengers could be processed … hence the twenty five minute delay getting aboard.

We finally boarded MV Aurora just before 1.00pm, and we were sent straight to the ship’s show lounge – Carmen’s – so that we could have a complimentary glass (or two) of champagne and something to eat whilst our cabin was prepared.

At 2.00pm we were notified that we could proceed to our cabin, and by 2.10pm we had begun the process of unpacking our luggage. This took until nearly 6.00pm, but that was due to two interruptions. The first was the obligatory SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) briefing that we had to attend at 4.00pm followed by the sail-away from Southampton, both of which took well over an hour.

Whilst we were unpacking a Mexi-Float was moving about the dock area. It did not appear to be performing a particular task, and was probably being used for training crews.

Aurora was scheduled to depart at 4.45pm, but her departure was slightly delayed by the other two P&O cruise ships that were also leaving Southampton at the same time. The first to move off was the MV Oceana

… followed by MV Azura.

Aurora followed the two other ships out of harbour and through the navigation channel that goes into the Solent. As the ship sailed out of the docks, she passed an old steam-powered passenger tender that is being preserved …

… and the SS Shieldhall, a former steam-powered sludge boat.

One of the Ministry of Defence-owned Ro-Ro ferries – the Eddystone – was also moored alongside the military dock in Southampton.

She is a sister-ship of the Hurst Point that we saw the last time we sailed on a cruise from Southampton.

After we had finished unpacking it was time to get ready for dinner. We went for a pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s, where we watched some of our fellow passengers showing off their prowess (or lack of it) at various types of ballroom and Latin American dancing. We then went down to the Alexandria Restaurant, where we were allocated to a table for eight that was situated right next the windows overlooking that stern of the ship. Everyone of the table introduced themselves, and if the conversation that night was anything to go by it looked as if dining was going to be an enjoyable experience for the rest of the cruise.

Once dinner was over we went for a post-dinner drink in Anderson’s. This is a bar that has been designed to look like a gentleman’s club, and it is always a pleasant place to sit and relax. We were in bed by midnight, and I made a point of reading the first few chapters of a book on my new Kindle. The book I chose was a novella entitled DOCTOR WATSON’S WAR by Patrick Mercer. It is an imaginary account of Dr John Watson’s part in the fighting at the Battle of Maiwand, Afghanistan, and explains how he came to suffer the bullet wound that led to his first meeting with Sherlock Holmes.

Monday 3rd September: At sea
Like almost everyone else we overslept and only just made it to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. Whilst we were eating Aurora sailed through a very large group of dolphins and was passed by Cunard’s Queen Mary II. We therefore managed to miss seeing both of these sights, although when we went out onto the deck area near the Pennant Bar after breakfast we did see some dolphins following in the ship’s wake.

We spent the rest of the morning relaxing in our cabin. Just before midday we went to the Crow’s Nest Bar where we drank hot chocolate and read. I finished DOCTOR WATSON’S WAR (which turned out to be a very interesting story with a nice twist at the end) and began Captain W E Johns’ BIGGLES GOES TO WAR. I first read this story some years ago, but I enjoyed it just as much the second time around. The book tells how Biggles (Major James Bigglesworth), Algy (Captain the Honourable Algernon Lacey), and Ginger (Lieutenant ‘Ginger’ Hebblethwaite) are recruited by the government of a small Eastern European country – Maltovia – to create an air force that can help protect the country from a stronger, aggressive neighbouring country, Lovitzna. The book described the Maltovian Army uniform (Pale-blue jacket and breeches with a red stripe down the outside seam of the breeches, continental pattern service cap, and black field boots) and its aircraft markings. The latter used roundels in the Maltovian national colours of red, black, and green. The opposing Lovitznian aircraft are described as being marked with brown crosses under their wings.

It occurred to me that the book might be a good starting point for a possible interbellum imagi-nation campaign, and I seem to remember that I have read Army Lists for both the Maltovian and Lovitznian armed forces.

We ate a late lunch in Café Bordeaux, and then spent a short time on the Promenade Deck before going to the ship’s retail area, where my wife bought some duty-free cigarettes. We then returned to our cabin, and whilst my wife had a short nap I brought my blog up-to-date. We also read for some time … and then it was time to get ready for the evening meal.

Our cabin is very well equipped, and the bathroom is fitted with a jacuzzi bath. As I had never tried using one before I decided that there was no time like the present to experiment. The experience was invigorating … but I still prefer the speed and efficiency of a shower.

As we had done on the previous day, we had a pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s. Dinner was a lively affair, and our dinner companions are turning out to be an interesting group of people. We even joined two of them for an after-dinner drink in Anderson’s where we spent almost an hour talking about a wide range of topics. Before going to sleep I finished reading BIGGLES GOES TO WAR. It is not a long story, but it has lots of action and was quite fun to read.

Tuesday 4th September: At sea
After a good night’s sleep (the clocks had been turned back an hour during the night because we had sailed so far westwards … with the result that we got an extra hour in bed!) we had breakfast in the Medina Restaurant. Because the ship’s crew was undertaking safety drills, we then went up to the area near the Pennant Bar where we sat for a time in the open air.

At about 10.45am we returned to our cabin, and we spent the next hour of so relaxing and reading. I began to read another book on my Kindle, PROFESSOR MORIARTY: THE HOUND OF THE D’URBERVILLES by Kim Newman. The book relates the story of Professor James Moriarty as told by his amanuensis, Colonel Sebastian Moran, and it is intended to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek mirror-image parody of the Sherlock Holmes stories. The book begins with the story of how Moran’s manuscript is discovered in the vaults of a private bank that specialises in clients of a more dubious provenance … and this introduction alone was worth the cost of the download! (Many years ago I worked in the world of private banking, so some aspects to the introduction brought back some interesting memories.)

Just after the midday announcement from the bridge we made our way to Raffles, the ship’s coffee shop. I began reading the first story in PROFESSOR MORIARTY: THE HOUND OF THE D’URBERVILLES, entitled A VOLUME IN VERMILION whilst my wife and I each enjoyed a café latte. We stayed there until 1.30pm, at which point we went to see how crowded it was in Café Bordeaux. There was a sizeable queue to be seated for lunch so we decided to go back to our cabin and return an hour later. This proved to be a sensible decision, and we were able to go back to Café Bordeaux just before 2.30pm and eat a late lunch.

After lunch we both watched two pre-recorded presentations about New York on the ship’s cable TV system. We had already booked two half-day tours to go on whilst we are in New York, and the presentations helped us to decided what we might like to do whilst we were not on a tour. We then spent the next hour or so relaxing … and then it was time for us to get ready for the first formal event of the cruise, the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party, which was held in Carmen’s.

Once the Cocktail Party was over we went straight to the Alexandria Restaurant to eat dinner. Because the evening was a formal one, the menu was described as being a gala one … but I must admit that it was not substantially different from the normal day-to-day dinner menu that P&O has on offer.

After dinner we took a short stroll on the Promenade Deck before going to Anderson’s for a pre-bedtime drink. Before going to sleep I not only managed to finish the story entitled A VOLUME IN VERMILION but also to read A SHAMBLES IN BELGRAVIA (which featured Irene Adler as well as Rudolf III, ‘Black’ Michael, and Colonel Sapt, the latter three being characters from Anthony Hope’s PRISONER OF ZENDA) and THE RED PLANET LEAGUE. In the latter tale Kim Newman managed to use elements and personalities from H G Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS within his story. I understand that this use of fictional characters from other works is not an uncommonly used theme within his writings … and in my opinion this makes them all the more entertaining and enjoyable! I look forward to reading more of his short stories as the cruise progresses.

Wednesday 5th September: At sea
We awoke early as the clocks had been put back yet another hour during the night. As a result the ship is now operating at GMT-1 … and our body-clocks are still working at GMT+1! It will take us time to adjust … and the clocks will continue to be put back one hour each day until we reach North America.

Another reason why we woke up early was the regular sounding of the ship’s foghorn. During the night the Aurora sailed into an area of fog and the visibility was drastically reduced. In fact it was impossible to see much more that 50m when we looked outside through our balcony windows.

We ate breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and then went up to the area near the Pennant Bar, where we sat talking until nearly midday. By then the fog had cleared and the sun was attempting to break through the low cloud cover. On our return to our cabin we had an hour or so relaxing and reading until 1.00pm, when decided to visit the ship’s cinema as it was showing THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.

We arrived at the cinema nearly fifteen minutes before the film was due to start … and found that almost all the seats were already taken. Eventually we found two seats near the front, and we settled down to watch the film. It was described as being a sentimental comedy, and that was a very apt description. As most of the audience was in the age group portrayed by the main actors (Judith Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, and Ronald Pickup) there was considerable empathy for the topics covered by the film, and lots of laughs could be heard … and a few tears shed. It is probably not a film that would appeal to the young … but it certainly hit the right note with the average passenger on this cruise.

After watching the film we went to Café Bordeaux for a very late lunch. We then went back to our cabin, and before getting ready for dinner I read the next story in Kim Newman’s book. This was the story that gave the book it’s name … and THE HOUND OF THE D’URBERVILLES turned out to be a hilarious ‘take’ of the similarly named Holmes story. Having read this story I am firmly of the opinion that I must read more of Kim Newman’s work.

During the afternoon the weather became somewhat more ‘Atlantic’ in nature, with long swells, foam-topped waves, rain squalls, and strong winds. In response the ship began to roll and pitch somewhat more than she had previously done, and one had to take slightly more care when moving about.

As usual we had a pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s. There were only six of us at the dinner table as one couple had decided to eat in one of the alternative dining venues. In no way did this factor diminish the level of conversation that was heard around the table during dinner, and it was a very enjoyable event.

After a post-dinner drink in Anderson’s we returned to our cabin and went to bed, although not before I began reading the next story in Kim Newman’s book, THE ADVENTURE OF THE SIX MALEDICTIONS.

Thursday 6th September: At sea
The weather had not improved overnight, but this did not affect our ability to sleep well. We woke up at just after 7.30am ship’s time, but as we were now operating at GMT-2 this was actually 10.30am UK time! By the time we reach New York we will be at GMT-4, which will be five hours behind the time in the UK. Unlike flying, at least making this journey by ship has allowed us to adjust gradually.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we tried to go out onto an open deck area. We managed to sit in the open for ten minutes before the wind veered and it became too cold to remain. As a result we spent the next couple of hours reading and relaxing in the Crow’s Nest Bar, although I also spent some time in Anderson’s attending a short meeting of the international fraternal organisation of which I am a member.

As usual the meeting concerned itself with introducing members to one another and the organisation of a fund-raising event that will take place at some time in the near future. I was elected to act as Director of Ceremonies, which is quite a simple job as it involves introducing guests when they arrive and announcing the various toasts when required.

Whilst I was not at the meeting I managed to finish reading THE ADVENTURE OF THE SIX MALEDICTIONS and just begin the next story in the book, THE GREEK INVERTEBRATE.

After the midday announcement had been made we returned to our cabin, where we remained until 1.45pm. We then went to the Curzon Theatre to watch the Captain and the Ship’s Purser take part in a light-hearted cookery competition called ‘Will cook, Won’t cook!’ This ended just before 3.00pm, and we then made our way to Café Bordeaux for a snack lunch.

We returned to our cabin a few minutes before 4.00pm and watched two pre-recorded presentations about Newport, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts, on the ship’s cable TV system until 5.30pm. My wife and I then went to the ship’s Photo Gallery where a selection of Nikon cameras were on sale at reduced prices. I bought a very cheap camera that I can use as a ‘stand-by’ for situations where my usual camera has a problem … such as a discharged battery or a full memory card. I don’t want to miss photographing anything whilst I am in North America, and this seemed like an ideal solution to any possible problems that might arise.

Just after 6.10pm Aurora passed approximately thirty miles north of the position where RMS Titanic sank on 15th April 1912. By then we had returned to our cabin and had begun to prepare for the evening’s semi-formal dinner. During our preparations I had enough time to read some more pages from THE GREEK INVERTEBRATE … and I am thoroughly enjoying it, especially as it introduced the reader to Professor Moriarty’s two brothers.

As has become our routine, we had a pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s and followed dinner with another in Anderson’s. Conversation over dinner seemed to concentrate on our joint experiences of past cruises, and we learnt some very interesting facts about various ports that we have yet to visit on a cruise.

Before going to sleep I finished reading THE GREEK INVERTEBRATE … and I anticipate enjoying the last story in Kim Newman’s book, THE PROBLEM OF THE FINAL ADVENTURE.

Friday 7th September: At sea
During the night the weather was somewhat changeable, and when we awoke the sky was grey and the ship had a very distinct roll as she steamed towards the North American coast. After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we went up to the area around the Pennant Bar, and whilst we were there the weather improved enough for the sun to be visible most of the time.

At 11.30am we returned to our cabin in order to get ready of the special Peninsular Club lunch. This was held in the Alexandria Restaurant and began at midday, and each of the tables was hosted by an officer. In our case we shared a table with four other passengers and one of the ship’s two doctors. Because all the passengers were very experienced travellers, most of the talk over lunch centred on places we had visited and the changes that P&O had introduced over the past few years. It was generally thought that they were not all good changes and that in some ways the company needed to ensure that they did not begin to alienate their core customers in their drive to expand.

The lunch was exceptionally good, but when coupled with the fact that our bodies are still tending to operate on UK time (i.e. four hours ahead of ship time), it resulted in us all feeling very tired by the time that it ended just before 2.00pm. After making our farewells to our lunch companions we returned to our cabin to relax … and doze! This coincided with the weather taking a gradual turn for the worse. The sky clouded over again and the wind picked up until it was over 30mph on deck.

The second formal dinner of the cruise was held that night, and we started to get ready during the later afternoon and early evening. We had our usual pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s, but after dinner we were feeling so tired that we went back to our cabin to get ready for bed. I finished reading THE PROBLEM OF THE FINAL ADVENTURE, having started it just after breakfast, and just before turning in for the night we saw another ship – the first since we have seen since Aurora left the English Channel – sailing on a reciprocal course. Judging be its size and the number of deck and cabin lights it was showing, it was probably another cruise liner.

Saturday 8th September: At sea
We awoke early to find that the sea was calm and the sky was almost cloudless. The air temperature was 24°C and it was very pleasant sitting on our balcony.

We had breakfast in the Medina Restaurant and then went out onto the open deck near the Pennant Bar for a breath of fresh air … and because it was so pleasant we stayed there until 3.00pm! During the day I read THE PRISONER OF ZENDA by Anthony Hope. I have read it many times before, but I never seem to tire of it … and I hope to read its sequel, RUPERT OF HENZAU, next.

At 3.00pm we returned to our cabin as the wind had veered and the area where we were sitting began to get somewhat colder. It also gave us the opportunity to get together the things that we will need to take with us when we enter the United States tomorrow, namely our passports, our ESTAs (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), and our US Customs Declaration form.

We had our a pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s as usual and dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant … but instead of going to Anderson’s for an after-dinner drink, we went to the Pennant Bar. It was warm enough on deck for us to sit in the open air watching the lights of far off ships.

Once we returned to our cabin we made one more check of everything that we might need to go ashore, read for a short while, and then put out clock’s back an hour so that we were operating at GMT-4 … New York time!

Sunday 9th September: New York
The final part of our overnight voyage into New York was punctuated by a series of events that woke us up. Initially we hit so rough weather that lasted for an hour or so, followed by the ship slowing down after she had picked up the pilot. Things calmed down until Aurora began to manoeuvre alongside, when the vibration from the thrusters caused considerable vibration.

We finally decided to get up just after 6.30am (Sunrise) as there seemed little likelihood that we would get any more sleep. A quick look out of the cabin balcony window showed that we were alongside our berth, and that even at that early hour on a Sunday, New York is a very busy city.

Aurora was not the only vessel alongside the cruise ship terminal. The AIDA Aura was moored three berths away …

… and the Norwegian Star moored two berths away soon after we woke up.

For a change (and because we wanted to avoid the inevitable queues in the restaurants) we ordered a light breakfast from room service. This arrived promptly, and it allowed us to eat at a leisurely pace and to watch New York ‘wake up’.

At 8.45am we made our way to the location where we had to gather aboard for our tour around New York ‘by land and sea’. Once everyone was checked off and issued with a tour sticker, the whole party made its way ashore and into the immigration process. This took some time, but by 9.45am we were aboard our coach and on our way.

The tour took us along the West Side Highway to Battery Park, and thence on to the historical South Street Seaport (Pier 17). Along the way we passed Ground Zero (in the former Meatpacking District), Greenwich Village, TriBeCa, and Battery Park City. At the South Street Seaport we had some free time to walk around and take photographs of the numerous historic ships that are moored there. I took so many photographs that I will use them to illustrate a separate blog entry.

The next part of our tour was taken onboard a large catamaran – the Zephyr – designed specially for sightseeing tours around New York. It took us under Brooklyn Bridge …

… and then under the Manhattan Bridge …

… before reversing course and passing up the Hudson River so that we could see Jersey City and Downtown Manhattan.

The cruise had already passed Liberty Island and Ellis Island as we had gone up the Hudson River, but on our return trip we went much closer to both – especially Liberty Island – so that we could take photographs of the Statue of Liberty.

We then returned to South Street Seaport to disembark and to rejoin our coach. Our coach trip back took a very different route. We drove through Chinatown, Little Italy, Midtown, and the Theatre District, ending in Clinton (which is also better known as Hell’s Kitchen) where the Aurora was berthed. Along the way we passed Times Square, Trump Tower, the Rockerfeller Centre, Radio City Music Hall, and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Rather than go back aboard Aurora we decided to walk to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum. This took us less than ten minutes … and we spent the next three hours there! The museum is based on and around the former USS Intrepid, a World War II-vintage Essex class aircraft carrier … and there was so much on show that it deserves – and will get – a separate blog entry.

By the time we got back aboard Aurora we were tired and very thirsty. After dropping off our bags and cameras in our cabin we went up to the Pennant Bar where we both had a refreshing cold drink … or two. We then went back to our cabin to look at the photographs we had taken before getting ready for dinner.

Because the normal dining arrangements are usually suspended when Aurora overnights in a port, we had booked a table in the Pennant Grill. This is one of the ship’s select dining venues, and it is situated at the rear of the ship. In bad weather the dining takes place inside a separate part of the Orangery (normally used as a self-service buffet-style restaurant), but if the weather is good enough the tables are set up outside under the covered section of the open deck area near the Pennant Bar. Despite a moderate wind the Grill was set up under the covered area and we were able to eat an excellent meal al fresco.

After dinner were returned to our cabin to relax before going to bed. Before going to sleep I managed to finish reading THE PRISONER OF ZENDA and I looked forward to reading its sequel, RUPERT OF HENZAU.

Monday 10th September: New York
We both slept well and by 8.45am we had eaten breakfast in our cabin and were ashore in plenty of time to join our tour to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We went by coach to Battery Park, where we were to catch the ferry to Liberty Island. Our journey by coach took us along the West Side Highway and we alighted next to Battery Park. The park takes its name from the gun battery (actually a stone fort named Castle Clinton) that was built there to protect New York during the War of 1812.

During our walk through the park I saw a memorial to the members of the United Nations forces who fought in the Korean War.

Our guide distributed the tickets we needed to take the ferry to Liberty Island, and we passed through the security screening and onto the ferry. Once the ferry was loaded – and ‘loaded’ seemed to mean filling every available square foot of deck space with people – we set off for Liberty Island.

Whilst we were there we were able to wander about the base of the statue (which is currently closed for refurbishment) as well as visit the gift shop and several external exhibits.

Amongst the things that we saw during our walk was part of the Statue’s old torch. This was replaced some years ago after years of water leaks had cause the original structure to become weakened.

We then re-boarded the ferry, which then took us to Ellis Island.

This was the main immigration processing centre for the United States from 1892 until World War II, and it is said that 40% of US citizens have at least one ancestor who passed through Ellis Island. We spent nearly two hours wandering around the very interesting museum that is located in the old immigration processing centre …

… and having a snack lunch.

We then returned to the ferry, which took us back to Battery Park. Once we were back aboard the coach we were taken on a sightseeing trip along Franklin D Roosevelt Drive. Our journey took us past the Lower East Side, East Village, and Stuyvesant Town until we reached the United Nations Building. We then turned inland and drove westward towards the Hudson River. As a result we passed many of the famous landmarks that we had seen on our previous day’s tour … but our guide was so knowledgeable and informative about what we saw that we did not feel that this was a wasted experience.

We were back aboard Aurora by just after 3.00pm, and after a refreshing cold drink and a small snack we returned to our cabin to relax and prepare for the ship to sail out of New York that evening. Just after 6.00pm Aurora let go her lines and slowly reversed away from her berth. She then turned southward and sailed down the Hudson River, passing Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on her starboard side before turning and passing out under the Verrazano Bridge towards the open sea.

Because the weather was so good and the view of New York at night on the horizon was so impressive, we went for a pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar. We then joined four of our dinner companions in the Alexandria Restaurant to eat … and to compare notes about our time in New York. Everyone had an interesting story or two to tell, and we all agreed that it was impossible to see even a small part of what the city has to offer in the two days we were there.

At the end of the meal we retired to our cabin to sleep … and hopefully recover somewhat before we reach our next port-of-call. I did, however, manage to read the first chapter of RUPERT OF HENZAU by Anthony Hope.

Tuesday 11th September: Newport, Rhode Island
Aurora anchored off Newport just after 7.00am, and almost immediately began to prepare to launch her tenders. The sound of this operation woke us, and we decided that we would take things easy and not go ashore until all the tours had departed as the tenders would be full until that had happened.

The ship had moored off the harbour of Newport because she was too big to get alongside, and the position she had anchored at put her very close to a preserved lightship, the Nantucket Lightship …

… and Fort Adams.

Whilst we waited to go ashore a very large yacht left harbour and passed astern of the Aurora.

We finally managed to get aboard a tender at midday, and as soon as we were ashore we went for a walk around the centre of the town. Many of the more important buildings are Georgian including the Court House …

… and the Old Colony House.

These two buildings are situated in Washington Square, and in the centre of the Square is a small park that contains a statue of Oliver Hazard Perry, one of the town’s numerous famous residents.

Many of the houses and other buildings in Newport are also Georgian in style, but the majority seem to be built in wood rather than brick.

After our walk (during which a degree of retail therapy took place!) we ate lunch in the Barking Crab Restaurant, where the service was friendly and fast, and the food was both excellent in quality and came in large portions!

We then returned to the ship by tender.

Due to the large number of passengers who had gone ashore and local speed restrictions in the harbour, the tendering operation took longer than expected. We had to wait in a queue for nearly 45 minutes before we were able to board a tender, and when we left the quay the queue of people remaining to come back to the ship was over a hundred yards long. As a result Aurora was nearly an hour late leaving Newport for our next port-of-call, Boston.

On our return to Aurora we went to our cabin to drop off our bags and then went straight up to the Pennant Bar for a much needed cold drink. We returned to our cabin in time to sit on the balcony or inside our cabin for an hour or so as the ship sailed away from Newport. It was then time to begin getting ready for dinner. This was preceded by – and followed by – another drink in the Pennant Bar.

Wednesday 12th September: Boston, Massachusetts
Aurora slowed and picked up a pilot at 7.30am in the approaches to Boston Harbor after making a high-speed run from Newport, and we were awake just before this occurred. We spent until 8.40am watching the ship slowly make her progress into Boston. This took us past the end of the main runway of Boston’s Logan Airport and into Cruiseport Boston. The ship berthed just ahead of the AIDA Aura

… which we had been alongside in New York.

After Aurora was safely tied up alongside the quay we went for breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, and by 10.30am we were ready to go ashore. We took the shuttle-bus into the centre of Boston (the drop-off point was near Quincy Market) from where we walked to Macy’s.

The walk to Macy’s took us past Faneuil Hall …

… and the Old State House.

Macy’s proved to be somewhat of a disappointment – as were one or two other stores that we visited – and after having a drink we made our way up to Boston Common …

… where we ate some food that we had bought from a nearby fast-food store. The end of the Common where we sat was dominated by the Massachusetts State House …

… and Park Street Church, …

… both of which were excellent examples of American Georgian-Style buildings. We walked back from Boston Common towards the shuttle bus pick-up point, and along the way we passed King’s Chapel …

… and First Public School.

The latter now houses a restaurant, but its grounds contain a statue of Benjamin Franklin …

… and Josiah Quincy.

Before returning to the shuttle bus pick-up point we did some retail therapy in the area known as Quincy Market. The queue for the shuttle bus was quite short, as was the wait for the bus to arrive, and we were back aboard Aurora soon after 3.30pm. We stopped off at our cabin to leave our bags there before going up to the Pennant Bar for a much needed cold drink. We stayed there until almost 5.00pm, when we went back to our cabin to sort ourselves out and to relax in the cool before needing to get ready of dinner.

Aurora set sail from Boston to the next port-of-call, Bar Harbor, Maine, soon after 8.00pm. We sat in the Pennant Bar for the first half hour of the sail out, but then it was time for us to go to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner … after which we went to bed, tired and exhausted after our day in Boston.

Thursday 13th September: Bar Habor, Maine
We awoke early (just before 7.00am) as we were booked on an early tour to see the Acadia National Park and had ordered breakfast to be delivered to our cabin. The weather was bright and sunny, just as it had been ever since we arrived in North America although the dampness of the furniture on our cabin balcony indicated that it had been wet during the ship’s passage from Boston to Bar Habor.

Aurora was escorted to her anchorage by a small US Coast Guard patrol boat, whose crew appeared to be at ‘Action Stations’ with their main armament (an M60 machine gun) loaded.

This was heightened level of security was hardly surprising in view of the killing of the US ambassador to Libya on the previous day.

Soon after Aurora had moored, she was joined by two other cruise ships, Le Boreal

… and the AIDA Aura … again!

After breakfast we collected our tour tickets and went ashore in a tender. We were shown to our coach, which then took us through Bar Harbor and out through the surrounding countryside to the Acadia National Park, and Cadillac Mountain in particular.

On our return trip we were offered the opportunity to be dropped-off in the centre of Bar Harbor, and this was too good to refuse. We walked back to St Saviour’s Episcopal Church …

… next to which is the local burying ground. The latter contained a monument to all the local men who fought and died in the Civil War …

… and the grave of Ezra H Young, who died on 13th January 1863 in Washington whilst serving as a member of the 26th Regiment of Maine Volunteers.

The church is famous for its Tiffany stained glass windows, which were bought by some of the very wealthy owners of ‘cottages’ (i.e. mansions that were used as summer homes) who attended the church.

After stopping for a drink in a local restaurant we walked up to and along Main Street, …

… back through the Village Green, …

… passing the local Fire and Police Departments, …

… until we returned to our starting point, where we ate a snack lunch. After lunch we returned to the Town Pier, where we caught the tender back to Aurora.

On our return we left our bags in the cabin and went up to the Pennant Bar for a cool drink, after which we returned to our cabin to rest and relax. The rest of the day passed much as previous ones had, with a pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar and dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant, followed by a much needed sleep. I did, however, manage to finish reading RUPERT OF HENZAU before going to sleep … and was somewhat surprised by the ending, having never read the book previously.

Friday 14th September: Saint John, New Brunswick
A different country, a different time zone … and altogether different weather!

During the night Aurora steamed out of United States waters and into Canadian ones … and at 2.00am the ship’s clocks were advanced one hour to GMT-3. When we woke up at 7.30am the ship was already beginning the process of mooring alongside the harbour but rather than bright sunlight – the sort of weather we have had every morning whilst we were in the United States – we were greeted by fog and damp.

Almost as soon as Aurora was secured alongside the cruise terminal she was joined by another cruise ship, the Disney Magic.

After breakfast in our cabin we prepared for our trip ashore. The tour we were booked on was entitled ‘Saint John Highlights’ and took us around numerous sites within the city. These included the Old City Market, …

… the Reversing Falls (where the flow of the Saint John River is reversed by the incoming tide from the Bay of Fundy), …

… and the Carleton Martello Tower, which was built during the War of 1812.

Along the way we passed a number of interesting locations, including King’s Square (where there is a war memorial and a statue of Sir Samuel Tilley, one of the founding fathers of the Dominion of Canada), …

… Rockwood Park, Wolastoq Park (Wolastoq was the original native Indian name for the St John River), and the Fort Howe blockhouse.

When our tour had ended we went back aboard the Aurora, restored our comforts, and then walked the short distance from the cruise terminal to Brunswick Square. From there were walked back through the Old City Market until we reached Charlotte Street, the location of the United Bookstore. This shop sells games as well as books and magazines … and whilst there I managed to purchase three Booster Packs from the AXIS & ALLIES MINIATURES: ANGELS 20 range … and got nine different aircraft!

After having had a good look round for somewhere to eat, we finally decided to return to the ship. It was too damp to sit outside any of the restaurants we looked at … and too crowded inside to get a seat in any of them. As a result we ate a late lunch in Café Bordeaux and then returned to our cabin to relax and read. I began reading a new book, THE SECRET PILGRIM by John Le Carré, and it appears to be a novel in which each chapter deals with a different set of incidents in the life of an about-to-retire spy.

Aurora unmoored and left Saint John not long after 4.30pm, to the sound of a lone piper who was stood on the quayside …

… and as she left the quay the weather was just beginning to change for the better. She sailed southwards out into the Bay of Fundy and made her way towards the mouth of the Bay before turning around Cap Sable, Nova Scotia towards Halifax. The improvement in the weather did not last, and within an hour the fog was so thick that the ship’s foghorn had to be sounded at regular intervals. This carried on until just after 7.00pm, when the fog began to clear quite rapidly, and by 8.00pm the horizon was in clear view and the last rays of the sun could be seen lighting up the sky in the west.

Before dinner we went up to the Pennant Bar for a drink, but by the time we returned after dinner it was too cold to sit in the open air. As a result we went to Anderson’s, where we sat and talked with two of our usual dinner companions until nearly 11.30pm.

Saturday 15th September: Halifax, Nova Scotia
What a difference a day makes! When we woke up at just before 7.30am – just in time to see the local pilot boat come alongside to transfer the pilot to the Aurora – the sun was shining and the sky was blue … although there were a few clouds as well.

We went to breakfast in the Medina Restaurant at 8.30am to ensure that we would have plenty of time to eat before we went ashore at our planned disembarkation time of 9.30am … which is when I had arranged to meet Ross Macfarlane outside the cruise terminal at Pier 21!

Whilst we were waiting to disembark, the Disney Magic came past Aurora and moored just ahead of her.

Just after 9.30am we met Ross at the barrier at the bottom of the gangway from the ship, and after mutual introductions he took us for a walk along the dockside towards the Maritime Museum. We then went inland and uphill to the Citadel, the largest part of Halifax’s defences.

The Citadel covers a large area and is now preserved as an historical monument. Some local volunteers dress in period uniforms and re-enact the typical daily life of a mid-Victorian soldier. They also act as guides and interpreters … and I must admit that they all seemed to be doing an excellent and very convincing job! I took so many photographs that the Halifax Citadel will get its own blog entry in the very near future.

After our trip to the Citadel we stopped off at an Irish pub for a ‘small’ snack lunch … which was as large as most full-size meals in the UK! All three of us then walked back to the cruise terminal, where we took our leave of Ross … but not before he had presented me with a book about the Russo-Japanese War that was published soon after the war had ended.

During our walk around Halifax with Ross we passed many war memorials, including one to the members of the Royal Canadian Navy who died during the Battle of the Atlantic, …

… a memorial to all the young Canadian sailors who have served their country in time of war and protect her in time of peace, …

… a commemorative memorial to all those who fought in the Crimean War, …

… and to all those who fought and died during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.

During the afternoon we went on a tour entitled ‘Treasures of RMS Titanic‘. This included visits to the cemetery where most of the bodies that were recovered are buried …

… and to Museum of the Atlantic. The latter houses a permanent exhibition about the Titanic, and we spent quite some looking at it and a special temporary exhibit that dealt with the role played by Halifax’s cable ships in the recovery of the bodies.

The Museum of the Atlantic is also the home of two preserved ships, the Acadia (a Polar exploration vessel) …

… and the Flower-class corvette, HMCS Sackville.

I took quite a number of detailed photographs of the Sackville, and these will form the basis of another forthcoming blog entry.

We were back aboard Aurora in time to see the Disney Magic set sail as we sat by the Pennant Bar having a much-needed cold drink.

The day had been very pleasantly warm but at about 5.00pm it began to turn cold and we retired to our cabin to get ready for dinner. I also managed to get the draft of my blog up to date as well as look through the book Ross had very kindly given me.

(Meeting Ross made a good day great. He was an extremely gracious host and was very knowledgeable about Halifax. He pointed out all sorts of interesting places and was a mine of useful information. We did manage to have a short chat over lunch about wargaming, but there was never going to be the opportunity for us to fight a battle … which was a great pity! Perhaps next time there will be … but in the meantime there is always the possibility of us fighting a wargame via Skype.)

We ended our day with a pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s, followed by dinner in the Alexandra Restaurant. By the end of dinner we were feeling so tired that we went back to our cabin and went to bed.

Sunday 16th September: At sea
We woke up much later than we have done of late and we did not have breakfast until after 10.30am. This late breakfast was followed by some activity … attending a talk by David Shute about the early years of his career with the BBC. His lecture was both informative and entertaining, and I hope to attend further sessions if other commitments allow.

After a snack lunch in the Orangery self-service restaurant, we returned to our cabin to read and relax. At 3.00pm I attended a brief meeting of the international fraternal organisation of which I am a member. The meeting finalised the details to the charity fund-raising event that will be held later during the cruise.

For the first time this cruise my wife and I went for formal afternoon tea in the Medina Restaurant. This was a pleasure, and I must admit that I really enjoyed eating crumpets and scones for the first time in a very long time.

Tea was followed by a trip to the ship’s shops … but despite our best efforts we did not buy anything. We then went back to our cabin, and after doing some more reading and relaxing my wife and I began getting ready for that evening’s formal dinner.

Because the weather was somewhat overcast for most of the day (with occasional short but heavy outbreaks of rain), we did not venture up to the Pennant Bar for our pre-dinner drink. Instead we went to Carmen’s, where we watched the ship’s dance instructors leading passengers through a number of ballroom and Latin American dances.

After dinner we returned to our cabin, and before going to sleep I finished reading THE SECRET PILGRIM and began to read William Le Quex’s THE GREAT WAR IN ENGLAND IN 1897. The latter is one of several ‘invasion’ stories from the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries that I have downloaded to my Kindle.

Monday 17th September: Quebec City, Quebec
During the night Aurora turned in the St Lawrence River, and when we awoke she was just passing the Ile aux Coudres Passage. The weather was sunny but cool (the temperature was 52°F) and there were only a few clouds in the sky.

After breakfast in the Medina Restaurant we returned to our cabin to put on our coats before going up to the area near the Pennant Bar to watch the view as the Aurora sailed along the St Lawrence River. Eventually the weather began to become cloudier and colder, and we retreated to our cabin, where we could watch the scenery go by in warmth and comfort.

Aurora moored at 1.00pm just below the rampart walls of Old Quebec City, having passed two other cruise ships that were already alongside.

They were the AIDA Aura (for the fourth time this cruise!) …

… and Celebrity Summit.

Once the ship was moored and cleared by Canadian Customs and Immigration, we collected our tickets and went ashore to join the other people who were taking the ‘Quaint Quebec and Tea at Chateau Frontenac’ tour. By this time the weather had improved and it was actually quite warm, and I regretted my decision to wear a lightweight coat. The tour group numbered twenty in total and our guide took us through the streets of the lower part of Old Quebec City, including the location of one of the old gun batteries.

We then went up to Chateau Frontenac via the funicular that joins the lower and upper parts of the old city.

The area between the Chateau and the walls that line the seaward side of the city is known as Dufferin Terrace, and it is dominated by a statue of Samuel de Champlain, the founder of New France.

After taking afternoon tea in the Chateaux Frontenac …

… we walked back downhill towards the ship. Our walk took us past the Protestant and Roman Catholic Cathedrals and along Petit-Champlain.

Once back aboard Aurora we needed to rest and relax before getting ready for dinner. We certainly needed our pre-dinner drink, and enjoyed sitting in the open area by the Pennant Bar, overlooking Quebec City at night.

Whilst we were there the AIDA Aura set sail for her next port-of-call.

We returned to the Pennant Bar for a post-dinner drink and sat for some time enjoying the view before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Tuesday 18th September: Quebec City, Quebec
We woke up just after 8.30am to find that the predicted overnight rain had not arrived, and that the morning was clear if a little chilly. We did not rush to go to breakfast as we knew that a number of tours were setting off before 9.30am and that this would mean that all the restaurants would be crowded.

After our leisurely breakfast we went ashore and made our way through the streets of the lower part of the city to the funicular. This took us up to the Dufferin Terrace, and we then continued our walk, this around the upper level of the city. Some retail therapy followed, as did a drink in a small outdoor café.

At this point the weather began to take a turn for the worse. The wind began to blow, and the clouds darkened … but we decided to try to make it as far as the Quebec Citadel before the rain began. We walked back along Dufferin Terrace, past several large cannon …

… and up the three hundred plus stairs to the Plains of Abraham, the site of the battle that secured French Canada for Britain.

We then walked around the outer walls of the Citadel to its entrance …

… where we joined a guided tour that cost 10 Canadian Dollars each. (You have to be taken round on a guided tour because the Citadel is still an active Royal Canadian Army post, and houses a battalion of the Royal 22e Regiment Canadien Francais, the only wholly French-speaking infantry regiment in the Army.) As has been the case with several other places I have visited, I will be writing a separate blog entry about the Citadel in Quebec City in due course.

Whilst we were walking about in the Citadel, the rain began to fall. The rainfall was not heavy, but it persisted throughout the remainder of our visit and during our walk back towards the ship. The situation changed as we reached the perimeter of the dock area, and the rain began to fall quite heavily. Had my wife not had the foresight to buy an umbrella at the Citadel, we would have both been soaked to the skin by the time we reached the ship.

Once back aboard we dropped our bags in our cabin and went up to the Orangery self-service restaurant for a late lunch and a drink. Suitably refreshed we returned to our cabin and relaxed until it was time for the ship to set sail from Quebec City at 6.00pm.

Because the weather was so bad we decided to have our pre-dinner drink in Anderson’s rather than in the open area near the Pennant Bar. The meal that was served at dinner was excellent, as was the company we ate with … and by the time it ended we were ready to go back to our cabin to sleep, especially as the ship’s clocks were being put forward to GMT-3.

Wednesday 19th September: At sea
Overnight the weather was quite windy and this caused the ship to develop a somewhat jerky movement. When we went to breakfast in the Orangery self-service restaurant we could just see the southern coast of the St Lawrence River estuary to starboard. The sea was very choppy and the sky was covered by dark grey clouds, and it looked likely that the bad weather was going to continue for some time.

At 11.15am we went to listen to the second talk by David Shute. It was held in the Curzon Theatre and his topic was foreign reporting for the BBC radio, and included extracts from broadcasts made in Sarawak during the Indonesian Confrontation and the Crater district of Aden. As on the previous occasion we went to listen to him, he was erudite, amusing, and very informative.

Just after midday we went up to the Pennant Bar for a drink, but by then the weather had worsened (the wind speed had risen to Force 9 and the waves were several metres high) and we decided to return to our cabin, where we remained reading and relaxing until it was time to have some lunch.

I finished reading William Le Quex’s THE GREAT WAR IN ENGLAND IN 1897, and I was struck by the level of detail included in the book. Individual ships, military units, buildings, streets, and even people are named and described, and most of it reads much more like a military history than a novel. It could certainly be used as the scenario for a wargame campaign, and as I read it I wondered what it would be like to re-fight the campaign using rules that were contemporary with the original book.

I also began to read the same author’s INVASION, and I was immediately struck by the significant difference only a few years of international political change made. In THE GREAT WAR IN ENGLAND IN 1897 the enemy are the French and Russians and Britain’s allies include Germany, Italy, and Austria, whereas in INVASION the enemy is Germany!

After a late lunch in Café Bordeaux we returned to our cabin and I continued (and finished) reading INVASION. Interestingly it was not a rehash or re-working of THE GREAT WAR IN ENGLAND IN 1897, but there were some parallels. INVASION contains a lot of detailed information about the British Army that attempts to resist the invasion, and the Germans do use similar tactics to the French and Russians in the earlier book. The most significant differences are that the location of the main invasion is changed from the South Coast to East Anglia, there was less civil unrest, there was very little mention of the Royal Navy’s role in the final defeat of the invasion, and London was the main location for the final defeat of the invaders.

During the afternoon the weather continued to deteriorate, and besides the high winds and rough seas already mentioned Aurora had to contend with low visibility. In fact the weather did not begin to improve until just before it was time to go to dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant. This was why we chose to have our pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s and not in the Pennant Bar.

The weather continued to improve as the evening went on, and by the time we went to bed there was hardly any movement due to the effects of wind and waves. I managed to read a complete short novel entitled MYCROFT HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE SILVER BIRCHES by David Dickinson and began a second one called MYCROFT HOLMES AND THE BANKERS’ CONCLAVE before going to sleep.

Thursday 20th September: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
The sound to the Aurora preparing to anchor just off Charlottetown woke us up just before 7.30am. The sky was grey and overcast and the air temperature was 55°F, but it was predicted that this would improve slightly as the day progressed.

Aurora had to anchor offshore and tender in her passengers because another cruise ship – the Holland-America Line’s MV Eurodam – had been allocated the only alongside berth.

Tendering passengers ashore is always a more difficult and lengthy task than using gangways, and priority is usually given to those passengers who are going on organised tours. We decided to have breakfast and then obtain our tender passes in order to minimise the delay we would have going ashore. The tender we booked was supposed to leave at 10.10am, and it was only a few minutes late leaving. The ride to the pier where the cruise ship terminal was located took less than five minutes, and once there we were greeted by – amongst others – a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Our passage through the cruise terminal was so swift that by 10.30am we were already walking towards the centre of Charlottetown.

Charlottetown is the capital of the Province of Prince Edward Island, and it contains a number of important building and memorials including the Province House (where the conference that led to the birth of the Canadian Confederation took place; the building has also been the home of the Provincial Legislature since 1847), …

… a memorial to those Canadians who took part in the Boer War as members of the Royal Canadian Regiment, …

… and a separate one for those who gave their lives during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War.

There are also memorials to the women of Canada who served in the Canadian Armed Forces …

… and to all those men and women whose serve their country and their communities in dangerous professions such as members of the armed services, police officers, and fire-fighters.

After some retail therapy and a café latte in the centre of the city we walked back through the older part of Charlottetown …

… and paid a visit to St Paul’s Anglican Church.

The church has a beautiful interior, and contains many plaques dedicated to the memory of parishioners, including one young man who served in the Royal Canadian Artillery and who was killed on 10th November 1918.

We then walked on towards the Peake’s Wharf Historic Waterfront, where we had hoped to eat, but this did not prove possible so we ended up at the Water Prince Corner Store …

… which was actually a fish restaurant! (The restaurant got its name from the fact that it stands at the corner of Water Street and Prince Street and used to be a general store.) We ate some of the best fish and chips we had ever eaten … which was hardly surprising as the fish was locally caught and the potatoes were grown on Prince Edward Island.

Having dined well on local food, we walked back to the pier where the cruise ship terminal was located and returned to the Aurora by tender. We had got so cold during our trip back to the ship that we needed a hot drink in the Orangery self-service restaurant before we returned to our cabin. We then watched the Eurodam set sail from Charlottetown just before 5.00pm, and Aurora followed her out of Charlottetown harbour less than thirty minutes later.

Before dinner I finished reading MYCROFT HOLMES AND THE BANKERS’ CONCLAVE by David Dickinson and began his MYCROFT HOLMES AND THE MURDER AT THE DIOGENES CLUB … which I finished before going to sleep later that evening.

Due to the inclement weather we had our pre-dinner drink in Carmen’s and not in the Pennant Bar, and I suspect that during the cross-Atlantic section of our cruise home, this will become the norm. After a very interesting and lively dinner we returned to our cabin to read, relax, and sleep.

Friday 21st September: At sea
The sound of the ship’s foghorn could be clearly heard when we awoke just before 9.00am. Aurora was sailing off the south coast of Newfoundland towards the Grand Banks in an area that is prone to heavy fog, and the visibility was very limited. Because of the tight schedule that the ship has to keep to, Aurora was making 22 knots, and although she is very well equipped with several different sea search and navigation radar systems, she was sounding her foghorn as an additional precaution.

After eating a late breakfast in the Orangery self-service restaurant we had a walk around the ship and then went to the Curzon Theatre to listen to David Shute’s third talk. This concentrated on his time as a radio producer at the BBC’s Pebble Mill complex in the Birmingham area, and his particular involvement in the production of The Morning Story.

At midday the ship’s clocks were advance by one hour to GMT-2. In many ways this makes the change in time as the ship crosses back across the Atlantic easier to deal with, although some passengers do complain that they would prefer that the change took place at night rather than during the day.

We had lunch and a drink in the Orangery self-service restaurant just after 2.30pm, after which we returned to our cabin. By this time the fog had begun to clear and the horizon gradually became visible. This improvement continued until 4.30pm, by which time the fog had disappeared and the sky was blue with a light covering of thin cloud.

During the afternoon I read the next of David Dickinson’s short novels, MYCROFT HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING POPES and began reading MYCROFT HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE NAVAL ENGINEER. I also spent some time reading through the text of Richard Borg’s MEMOIR ’44 rules and its numerous supplements, all of which I had downloaded in PDF format to my iPad.

Dinner was a formal affair and was preceded by the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party. This event is held on every cruise that is seven or more days long, and anyone who is a qualifying member of the Peninsular Club (P&O’s loyalty scheme) is invited to attend. On this occasion the party we attended was held in Carmen’s, and was hosted by the Peninsular Club and Future Cruises representatives and attended by a smattering of officers from various departments on the ship. We had our photograph taken with the ship’s Master, Captain Ian Hutley – with whom we have sailed several times before – as we entered Carmen’s.

After dinner we returned to our cabin to relax and allow our meal to be digested before going to bed. Before I went to sleep I finished reading MYCROFT HOLMES AND THE ADVENTURE OF THE NAVAL ENGINEER. I have enjoyed reading all of David Dickinson’s stories about Mycroft Holmes, and I will certainly look out for further stories by this author.

Saturday 22nd September: At sea
Overnight the weather had calmed somewhat, and when we woke up the sea state was slight, the sky overcast, and the air temperature was 57°F. As we had no pressing reasons to get up, we had a bit of a lie-in and did not go to breakfast until quite late.

By the time we reached the Orangery self-service restaurant they were beginning to pack away breakfast in preparation for lunch, but we managed to find something to eat and drink before we went outside to the area near the Pennant Bar. The area is usually quite sheltered and we sat there for over ten minutes before the wind changed direction and it became too cold to sit there.

We then spent the time until midday walking around the ship visiting the shops, the Photo Gallery, and the Promenade Deck before going to the Crow’s Nest Bar. Whilst there we had a drink as well as spending time sitting in the bar’s comfortable armchairs reading and relaxing. I started reading John Buchan’s THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS for the first time in many years … and realised that my memory of the story was based upon the numerous film and TV versions I have seen rather than the book itself. As a result reading it has been more like coming to the story afresh … and has made it much more pleasurable experience.

During the afternoon I began turning the notes I had written about Richard Borg’s extended MEMOIR ’44 rules into something that was more user-friendly. As each expansion pack has been published, new rules have been added that are not included in the basic rule book. Finding the new or modified rules is not always easy, and I thought that a simple set of notes that included all the published rules would be helpful. With luck this will be a project that I can complete during the next few days at sea.

Our evening followed the same pattern as all the others have of late, with a pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar, followed by dinner in the Alexandria Restaurant, and ending with a return to our cabin o read and relax before going to bed.

Sunday 23rd September: At sea
We decided to set our alarm clock in order to get back into the habit of waking up somewhat earlier than we have on recent mornings … and it meant that we were up and ready for breakfast in the Medina Restaurant at the same time that we had woken up on the previous morning!

Overnight the weather had not changed very much, but the wind had veered round so that it was blowing across the ship. This caused the Aurora to roll more than usual and to make slightly less speed than she does normally when at sea.

After breakfast we spent most of the morning in or cabin or in Anderson’s reading. I finished THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS and began reading John Buchan’s next Richard Hannay book, GREENMANTLE. We had a snack lunch in the Orangery self-service restaurant, after which we returned to our cabin to do some more reading … and for me to get my blog up to date and to continue work on my MEMOIR ’44 notes.

For a change we had booked a table for dinner in the Café Bordeaux rather than going to the Alexandria Restaurant as usual. During the evenings the Café Bordeaux ceases to be an informal café-style restaurant and becomes one of the ship’s two alternative dining venues. Its menu has been devised by Marco Pierre White and it reflects his attitude to food. On this particular occasion the restaurant was also hosting a music evening, and we were entertained by a group – called Caravan – that we had seen on previous cruises as well as this one. As one would expect, the food, service, and atmosphere were excellent and we enjoyed the experience.

Monday 24th September: At sea
During the night the weather worsened. The wind speed and wave height increased, with the result that the ship’s movement became much more noticeable and moving around the ship became quite difficult. The change in the ship’s movement had already woken us up before the alarm clock went off, but neither of us felt inclined to get out of bed until it did.

We went to the Medina Restaurant for breakfast, after which we attended an event called ‘The A-Factor’. This gave passengers the chance to see the range of tasks that each of the different departments onboard Aurora perform. This was followed by an interview with the ship’s captain – Captain Ian Hutley – that was conducted in the Curzon Theatre by the Cruise Director.

At midday the ship’s clocks were advanced to GMT, and this meant that we only had one more change to make on the following day before we were back on UK time. After taking a short break in the Crow’s Nest Bar for a drink and a chance to just stare at the sea (a very relaxing and hypnotic pursuit), we went for lunch in the Café Bordeaux.

During the late afternoon we began to get ready for the last formal dinner of the cruise and the charity fund-raising event that had been organised by the international fraternal organisation of which I am a member. I acted as Director of Ceremonies for the event (which was held in the Uganda Room next to the Crow’s Nest Bar), and this involved introducing attendees and guests (including the ship’s senior officers) to the meeting’s President and his wife and then introducing the various toasts that were made. The event was a great success, and well over £600.00 was raised for charity.

Once the event had ended we went up to the Pennant Bar for a drink in the open air (the Uganda Room had been quite crowded during the charity fund-raising event) and then returned to our cabin to rest, relax, and recuperate for a couple of hours before going to the Alexandria Restaurant for dinner.

After dinner we went back to our cabin to get ready for bed, and I managed to read quite a large chunk of GREENMANTLE before I went to sleep.

Tuesday 25th September: At sea
Overnight the weather improved somewhat, and although they sky was still overcast the wind had dropped and the wave height had reduced.

We took breakfast in the Medina Restaurant, after which we went up to the area near the Pennant Bar for a breath of fresh air. At 11.00am I went to an informal meeting of the international fraternal organisation of which I am a member that was held in Anderson’s. This gave us the opportunity to tie up a few loose ends and to formally record the amount of money that had been raised for charity … which turned out to be £400.00 for each of the charities chosen (the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the New Samaritans Charity).

Midday brought the last final change to the ship’s clocks, and from then on we operated at GMT+1 (i.e. UK Time) for what remained of the cruise. Before lunch we began the process of long and laborious task of packing our luggage. It took so long that we took a break after about an hour to have a late lunch … and then continued until we had finished. We then got ready for our last dinner of the cruise and had our final pre-dinner drink in the Pennant Bar.

The enjoyment of the last dinner of a cruise is always affected by the knowledge that you are likely to be taking your leave of your erstwhile dinner companions – and the waiting staff who have attended to your every need for so long – for the last time ever.

After dinner we spent some time finalising everything for our disembarkation before going to bed. I finished reading GREENMANTLE … and cannot understand why it has not been turned into a film or TV series. It is certainly as good as story as THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS and has a story-line that has both relevance and resonance in the modern world.

Wednesday 26th September: Southampton
Aurora docked well before 6.30am and had already begun the process of preparing for her next cruise when we awoke. The weather was very wet, and it rained heavily whilst we disembarked and made our way to the valet car parking collection point. In fact the rain did not ease off until we were well on our way towards London on the M3 … and it returned no long after we reached the Gatwick turn-off on the M25. We reached home somewhat later than we had hoped, but once there we soon got into the rhythm of unpacking.


A small package in the post

Amongst the post that was waiting for me to be opened when I returned home from North America was small package. I had not been expecting anything and I had not idea what it contained … until I turned it over and saw that it had been sent to me by Conrad Kinch and was described on the Import Duty Declaration as containing ‘toy soldiers’.

I opened it and found …

… two Corgi die cast models of T-34/76 tanks!

Conrad Kinch did not have a use for them, and thought that I might … and he was absolutely correct!

These two will join my other T-34/76s … and with a bit of luck they will feature in a forthcoming battle that I hope to fight using Richard Borg’s MEMOIR ’44 rules.


It is taking longer than expected

You go away for a few weeks … and when you get back there is so much to do!

I am finding it very difficult to get back into the swing of things now that I am back home because there are so many tasks and chores that need doing.

First there is the unpacking, washing the dirty clothes (or taking them to the dry cleaners … which is the sort of task I get allocated!), putting the suitcases and bags back into storage (definitely my job!), restocking the fridge and larder (for which I am the taxi service and general ‘fetcher and carrier’), and putting everything away.

Secondly there is the snail-mail post to go through (over 100 letters, not all of which were junk mail) … of which more later.

Thirdly there are the emails that I have been sent that need to be read. There were nearly 2,000 of them … and they were not all from the IMF, UN, FBI, Nigerian Oil Ministry etc., by a long chalk.

Finally there were the blogs that I follow to look at … and Google Reader had nearly 300 new blog entries listed!

On top of all this I had a meeting in Central London yesterday that meant I was out of the house from 2.30pm until just after 11.00pm. (I could tell you all about it, but I would have to kill you all afterwards! [This is a joke, by the way; my membership of a ‘secret’ organisation is mentioned quite a few times elsewhere in my blog!]).

With a bit of luck … and a following wind … I SHOULD be back on track over the weekend, and hopefully I will then have time to complete the very long blog entry about my trip to North America I have already drafted.


And it’s home boys home …

For those regular blog readers that have been wondering why I have not been replying to comments over recent weeks, the answer is … I have been sailing to North America and back!

I will be writing a long (a very long!) blog entry about my recent cruise sometime soon, and I have managed to visit lots of places that I will be writing special blog entries about.

Before then I will, however, share one of the highlights of the whole experience … and that was meeting Ross Macfarlane in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He very kindly showed my wife and I around the waterfront area of the city and the massive Citadel that overlooks it, and he made a good day into a great one! I hope that I will be able to reciprocate someday, and to show Ross and his wife around parts of London.

And now it is back to the unpacking …


Paper Soldiers … of the Spanish Civil War: Some images

To give regular blog readers some idea how useful and detailed José María Bueno’s EL EJERCITO ESPANOL EN PARADA series of paper soldiers were to me, I have photographed the sheets in pairs. To assist readers to identify which unit is which, I have listed the contents of each set first.

Set 1

  • Infanteria
  • Tiradores de Ifni-Sahara
  • Mehal-la Jalifiana
  • Bandera de F.E.T. y de las J.O.N.S.
  • Infanteria de Marina
  • Escolta mora de S.E. el Generalissimo
  • Policia Montada de Sevilla
  • Caballeria de las Milicias del Requete

Set 3

  • Artilleria de Montana
  • Artilleria de Montana, Escalon de Municionamiento
  • Primer Tercio del Requete Navarro
  • Grupo de Regulares de Melilla Numero 2
  • Tabor de Caballeria de la Mehal-la
  • Marina
  • Servicio de Trabajo de F.E.T. y de las J.O.N.S.
  • Bandera de Camisas Negras del la Division ‘XXIII de Marzo’

Set 4

  • Guardia Civil de Infanteria
  • Guardia Civil de Caballeria
  • Infanteria
  • X Bandera de la Legion
  • Mehal-la Jalifiana Infanteria
  • Bandera de Falange Espanola
  • Compania de ‘Bersaglieri’ Motorizados
  • Compania de Carros Ligeros del C.T.V.


Paper Soldiers … of the Spanish Civil War

Until relatively recently (the last fifteen years or so) information about the Spanish Civil War was limited. Therefore when I was doing the research that culminated in my book, LA ULTIMA CRUZADA, I used whatever resources I could lay my hands on … including a set of paper soldiers produced in Spain in 1979.

These were not any old paper soldiers; they were drawn by José María Bueno, who was (as far as I know) the greatest authority on Spanish Military uniforms. They paper soldiers (they were printed in full colour on thick card) were sold in sets of eight sheets, and as far as I known there were six sets. The whole series was entitled EL EJERCITO ESPANOL EN PARADA and showed troops as they would have appeared during the Victory Parade in 1939.

I own three of the six sets, Numbers 1, 3, and 4.

Set 1

  • Infanteria
  • Tiradores de Ifni-Sahara
  • Mehal-la Jalifiana
  • Bandera de F.E.T. y de las J.O.N.S.
  • Infanteria de Marina
  • Escolta mora de S.E. el Generalissimo
  • Policia Montada de Sevilla
  • Caballeria de las Milicias del Requete

Set 3

  • Artilleria de Montana
  • Artilleria de Montana, Escalon de Municionamiento
  • Primer Tercio del Requete Navarro
  • Grupo de Regulares de Melilla Numero 2
  • Tabor de Caballeria de la Mehal-la
  • Marina
  • Servicio de Trabajo de F.E.T. y de las J.O.N.S.
  • Bandera de Camisas Negras del la Division ‘XXIII de Marzo’

Set 4

  • Guardia Civil de Infanteria
  • Guardia Civil de Caballeria
  • Infanteria
  • X Bandera de la Legion
  • Mehal-la Jalifiana Infanteria
  • Bandera de Falange Espanola
  • Compania de ‘Bersaglieri’ Motorizados
  • Compania de Carros Ligeros del C.T.V.

I found these paper soldiers to be invaluable when I was doing my research, and they have pride of place in my collection of books and documents relating to the Spanish Civil War.