Sunday, June 7th 2015 saw the commencement of a splendid eight-night cruise to the Scilly Isles and the Continent from Bristol (Avonmouth). I travelled on 'Cruise and Maritime's MV Azores – a stylish old cruise ship that can take about 550 guests on cruises out of several UK ports. I like the smaller ships as they are more welcoming and friendly in my book. It was good to get away from home having secured the house; informed the neighbours; and set the central heating and electrics to holiday mode. Arriving at the dock gates a little early, I was advised to come back at the appointed time. So I went into the village of Avonmouth and sat in the park for a while. Better to be early than late considering I first had to drive down the M5. Anyway, I parked my car in the allotted car park near the cruise terminal and embarkation was swift and efficient. When, at 3.45 pm, I was escorted to my comfortable spacious cabin on Aegean Deck, I found my luggage had already been placed outside my door. Safety drill at the muster stations was performed soon after. Then dinner. I was on a table for four. Being a Platinum class Columbus Club member, there had been a welcome card; and a bottle of champagne, in an ice bucket, in my cabin. I shared the champagne with my fellow diners. The Welcome Show gave us a taste of the treats to come. MV Azores left the dock - through the lock - at sunset; and headed off down the Bristol Channel.
After a good night's sleep and a hearty cooked breakfast in the Lotus Buffet, I attended the Port Excursions presentation. It is always good to attend to get all the gen. Also there was a get-together for solo travellers hosted by the lovely CMV Social Hostess, Georgia Shaw. The day was sunny and soon we were travelling past the jagged rocks surrounding the Isles of Scilly. We dropped anchor midway between St. Mary's and Tresco. Many folk visited the Abbey Gardens on Tresco. I went in by tender boat to Hugh Town on St. Mary's and spent a few hours exploring and walking round the headland beyond Old Town. I met people who had come over for the day on the'Scillonian ship from Penzance. Back on board Azores that evening, actress Pauline Daniels performed the first half of her Shirley Valentine monologue.
High winds were forecast for the vicinity of Guernsey so the Captain decided that tendering would be risky there. Instead we visited Cherbourg on the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy. With friends from a previous cruise, I walked round the town and visited the church, botanic gardens and submarine museum. I returned to our ship at 4 pm as the wind was brisk and it was getting rather chilly. Dinner that night was by special invitation to the Captain's Table where we enjoyed the Hotel Director's hospitality and bonhomie. Other attendees were celebrating birthdays or wedding anniversaries or simply being splendid nonagenarians. Pauline Daniels performed the concluding part of her Shirley Valentine monologue. It was much enjoyed by all. Later that night the sea was rough. We were all glad to enter the estuary of the Seine and the quieter waters of the meandering river. I arose at 5 am to watch our ship pass beneath one of the mighty suspension bridges over that stretch of the river.
The day following that particularly stormy night was warm and sunny. I was on the 'new' CMV excursion – day trip to Paris. Our escort guide, Barbara, was marvellous. It took us two hours to reach the city and the coach parked close to the Eiffel Tower. We boarded a river cruise and spent the next hour admiring the bridges and buildings of Paris while we went up beyond Notre Dame and back round the other side of Isle de la Citee. Time for some refreshment back by the Eiffel Tower before we boarded the coach for a brief tour. We had a photo-stop at the Trocadero; then up round the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs Elysee. Getting off the coach by the Opera House we then had two and three quarter hours to explore at will. With other passengers, I walked by the shops to the Madeline Church, the forecourt steps of which were bedecked with red, white and blue petunias. We then walked via the Place de la Concorde to the Tuileries Gardens. One can rest by the lakes there on comfortable chairs. I left my new friends to walk alone to the Louvre to see the glass pyramid there. Thence via Place Vendome back to our rendezvous point near the Opera House. I did not buy a 9000 Euro wrist watch from Tiffanys or from any of the other exclusive shops that I passed along the way. The coach took us back to the ship in Rouen arriving at 7 pm. After dinner I watched the excellent 'From Russia with Love' show in the Calypso Show Lounge.
The ship was berthed in Rouen overnight and we had the morning to explore that city. So much fine elaborate Norman architecture to see; and also the astronomical clock was well worth seeing. Having taken the complimentary shuttle bus from the ship to the city earlier, I walked back along the riverside crossing back and forth and three bridges to get a better view of first the city then MV 'Azores'. The afternoon was a highlight of the cruise as we gracefully travelled the 65 mile distance to Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine. Wonderful scenery all the way. Limestone cliffs, wooded hillsides and neat Normandy towns flanked the broad and meandering River Seine. We passed beneath three splendid suspension bridges. In the distance, we glimpsed the white limestone ruins of Jumieges Abbey. That night the entertainment team put on their show 'Magic of the Musicals' which was nothing less than 'sensational'. Such amazing talent all round.
The following day we were 'alongside' very close to the pretty harbour town of Honfleur. The Garden of Personalities and the beach beyond that are well worth the stroll. That evening we enjoyed the Gala Night Dinner – including the Baked Alaska' Parade. Then to the Calypso show lounge for the entertainment - 'ABBA – Dancing Queen – so good I saw it twice.
Next was Amsterdam which we reached in late afternoon on the following day. With two energetic companions, I walked to the central basin and took a one hour, 10 Euro, canal cruise. Thereafter we glimpsed the Red Light District but preferred to escape the rowdy 'stag' and 'hen-party' groups there and make our way over to see Anne Frank's house. No time to visit the museum there but we did go in the cheese 'museum' and tulip 'museum' across the canal – both being 'shops' in all but name. Then, by walking at a brisk pace, we managed to get back to the ship by 8.30 pm and I enjoyed the pirate-themed dinner in the Olissipo restaurant.
The ship was overnight in Amsterdam and armed with a city map I was off by 8.15 am to further explore the city. I went to Dam Square, then viewed Rembrandt's house before having coffee on the rooftop terrace of the Nemo Science Centre. I popped into the impressive modern library before returning to the ship, where I cashed in the last of my Euros for Sterling. I had a good fish and chips lunch on the ship. The Entertainers put on a cabaret in the afternoon and also hosted a Q. & A. session which was most interesting. We heard about their backgrounds, theatrical training and lifestyles and people expressed appreciation of their talents. We left Amsterdam mid-afternoon and were soon in the North Sea. That night, after dinner, 'Rock & Roll Dreams' was the show. I participated in the Blankety Blank quiz which followed. I won a Cocktail of the Day for my efforts. And Mother Nature laid on a show of her own with a spectacular sunset just while we were passing by and between the host of oil and gas rigs in that area of the sea..
Monday 15th of June was our last day. We docked early in Hull. Then we were transferred back to Bristol by coach. Using the M1, M42 and M5 we made it back to the Avonmouth cruise terminal at about quarter to three having stopped at a couple of service stations along the way. Time to bid goodbye to friends old and new; and then to drive home to Gloucestershire after a wonderful cruise.