For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
It was 10:30 am on the train from Hamburg to Berlin when a young chirpy woman’s voice presumably welcomes us to our journey in German, before adding, clearly, ‘Good afternoon’. A loud laugh from the man near me gave notice there were not too many English speakers on the train. She said no more.
There was no ticket inspecting, as compared to Spain, where any intercity train journey is accompanied by a security check and close analysis of tickets at every opportunity. No-one ever checked tix in Hamburg. Does anyone even buy tickets apart from tourists?
As for my carefully reserved seat, there weren’t even any numbers on the walls or the chairs. The man, so kind and genuine, selling me the tic in his comfortable uniform and urging me to make that extra payment of four euros fifty to reserve a seat, said, ‘Hamburg to Berlin is our busiest route. It’s normally full. But, you must wake up in time. If you miss it you must pay again.’ All so jovial and such a big, fat lie!
I didn’t miss the train. Walking to the train station was a joy. It was a beautiful sunny morning in my leafy suburb and the fallen leaves, crisp and crunchy the day before, had already turned to sludge in the soft rain. The glowing autumn colours shone through. Those old trees spoke eloquently of change and time passing. The grey mist enhanced the mystery.
Half a world cruise on Queen Mary 2. Find part 1: leaving Sydney, part 2: cruising around south Oz and part 3: sea to island hopping. Caught up? Enjoy the next quarter!
Day 21 – at sea – Routine back in full power, together with satisfying work on my writing project. After dinner, tablemate Elaine and I ran to the cinema, from one end of the ship to the other. I was wearing one of my excellent wraps (gifted to me as Kate Winslet cosplay) which I held flying behind me like a cape. It was glorious and funny and, as we pounded through the plush carpet of the grand foyer, I began to hum the old tv theme from Batman between chortling gasps. Our fellow cruisers, some leaning on their walking sticks, looked on with approval. Flying within the QM2. Speaking of flying, you may be interested to learn that airlines are expecting a much greater profit this year. How are you travelling?
Arriving just in time, we watched a film set in Port Isaac where I had a WorkAway booked in a month. My tablemate, Elaine, had been there recently. Her photos, showing locations we’d just seen in the silly film, brought my future into sharp existence. There would be an end to this cruise, and I would be there, in Cornwall, in the film, with rugged coastline and cold outcrop of hard buildings nuzzling into cliff-edged harbour. The port featured one of those constructed sea wall barriers that must have been an engineering marvel in its conception, just as surely as it must have killed a percentage of its builders. What with Doc Martin and the Fishermen’s Friends, there’ll be tourists in them there hills. Reassuringly, Elaine seemed to have enjoyed her experience there. And there’d be Cornish pasties.
There was sea to cover. Tomorrow would be an early start. Up, dressed, coffee, breakfast at 05:50, meeting at Royal Court Theatre to read my book while we wait in a queue before we landed in
– a place I never imagined I’d ever go.
DAY 22 – DURBAN
Woke as we began to enter the harbour around 03:00. Finished reading Donna Leon and began to prepare. From the ship the city looked big (4.3 million souls). The large office buildings looked like big black flags as we entered the harbour in the early morning darkness. They did not have their lights switched on. There was a deep red smear across the sky which warned of rain – I considered my raincape, but we were only out for the morning. Cruise passengers wouldn’t have to worry about the weather. Expected 29 degrees.
Litter lay like crocodile skin on the water.
Very grateful kitchen opened for toast and marmalade. Waited in quiet theatre with murmuring ‘guests’ in comfy seats waiting, waiting, waiting, for Border Control.
Once in our bus, we drove through the port of Durban. The streets were littered and the buildings were covered in scraps and the bus shelters were enormous and littered. People were everywhere, ignoring the litter. Our tour guide, white and elderly, had splendid memories of the old days when everything was great. He said he tried hard to avoid speaking of politics but could not help veering back into his opinions about corruption in government: from road builders right up to international policy. He would start talking about educational progress and swerve right into his strong opinions again. He was a real downer. Perhaps that is South African life.
Trevor Noah billboards grinned from the tall sides of buildings. Could his show cheer folk up?
I felt some cynicism regarding my game reserve Shore Experience, perhaps influenced by this guide. There’d be two more tours going to the same place later in the day. Would it just be a photo opportunity to see a wild animal in a farm? Well, yes. But how could I say I’d been to South Africa and not seen a beast?
We arrived and piled into ‘jeeps’. Tala Wildlife Reserve was a sort of open plains zoo where herds of zebra and wildebeest roamed together with impala and rhinos (with sawn off horns to prevent poaching).
And then there were giraffes. They came quietly, elegantly, down the hill towards us. Like goddesses or spirits, swaying forwards and backwards as they roamed.
What beautiful creatures. Beautiful.
The giraffes decided to keep going, bypassing their optimal viewing station, so our driver stopped the truck, got out to run down to the river and flush them up to us tourists. Only, he left our open-sided jeep running and the fumes (you’d think we’d be used to diesel fumes, wouldn’t you), started to annoy some of our more sensitive ‘guests’. He was gone for quite a while and soon people began to stand and worry and debate and eventually moved to turn the engine off. These ‘jeeps’ are built on the bed of a five-ton truck. We sat in silence and watched the chased giraffes run back and mingle where they ought and the other jeeps were afforded good picture opportunities as well.
Sadly, on his return, our driver knew right away he would have to push the sturdy vehicle to get it started. And, after turning on the key, being a valiant fellow, he began to heave. Only the heavy machine rolled back into a muddy puddle. A muttering became consensus and all the blokes leapt to their feet. (Some of the men got to their feet.) Some of the wives gave their fellows an elbow in the ribs. Many of the males made it outside to give an old heave ho. I will tell you I had my pack wrapped around my legs so it wouldn’t fall out of the open sided ‘jeep’. I promise you I was trying to disentangle the awkward macrame so I could get out and be useful too, struggling with my knotted legs and climb over the American bird lover beside me, when all of a sudden, the engine roared and the gents clambered back on board to get a pat on the knee from their admiring partners. I really would have helped …
As cameras clicked and jaws slackened, the driver climbed out of his cabin and made his way around the outside of the cage, leaning up against where I sat. I asked him if these were the sort of animals that might have lived in this area before white invasion? Oh, yes, absolutely. We could see the large chicken farm across the road. I meant to ask him about indigenous plants and grasses – given this had been cattle producing farmland only a few years before – but we had to move on. There were small acacias around the hippo pool. I think I saw some hippo eyes, but the sea eagle distracted me.
Our continually depressing drive through the outskirts of the city back to port took us past many low chicken farms. I saw no solar panels and no wind turbines visible from the bus windows. Our guide said much of the electricity came from diesel generators.
DAY 23 – at sea – When life stays at the same ship’s time, the gym is almost empty on opening, also a bonus for my ‘office’ (the Chart Room with no charts) and my morning routine went along as normal until I signed up for the Galley Tour with Executive Chef James Abhilash.
A few hundred ‘guests’ sat in the dining room, waiting, waiting, for the chef’s talk and then, divided into smaller groups, paraded single file through the Britannia kitchen rotating doors with cameras/phones at the ready.
On board the QM2 there’s the Queens and Princess Grills and King’s Court, the Steakhouse, Room Service and the Crew Galley as well as the Boardwalk, a little burger/hot dog joint up on the sports deck. The Britannia kitchen is huge, stainless steel and spotless. There’s hundreds of staff walking around: major cleaning happens overnight with constant clean-ups through the day, plus the more picturesque chopping, stirring, plating, serving and then more cleaning. Nothing is left to chance. The orders are supervised to the last minute to avoid waste.
Potable water is created by 3 huge salt water plate evaporators. They process around 1900 tons of water for crew and guest showers plus all the drinks. The water is treated and filtered numerous times, especially by the time they arrive in the drink machines in the restaurants.
There are 157 chefs on board of different ranks and specialities, and there’s 85 support staff such as dishwashers and cleaners under the supervision of the Galley Manager. Plus there’s 13 strong Provision Team headed by the Inventory Manager. There’s 21 refrigerated and frozen rooms for storage. About 16,000 meals are eaten every day – with attendant plates, cutlery and linen to be washed.
For us passengers, there’s only entertainment. Sadly, 680dotcom’s first attempt to try shuffleboard was cancelled due to wind. Tried afternoon Trivia but remembered nothing. Back to work. Then decided to try the plant-based option in the room service menu. Fast and delicious. Watched a movie about Val Kilmer. Persistence. Serious intense man with throat cancer – continuing to strive.
DAY 24 – PORT ELIZABETH
Woke at 05:00, pleasant routine before enjoying breakfast. Supposed to be reading in the theatre at 07:00 but accidently late – no matter – we weren’t called ‘til 07:30.
Fifteen of us piled on to a little bus and off we went with guide Siswayle – a smart urbane young man with beautiful leather shoes and cool trousers.
During our drive through grey, littered city streets, into orange farmland, I sat next to Melanie, who turned out to be a mum of a 27-year-old man (snap!), divorced, and having herself a surprise cruise romance. She was trying to remain positive despite her qualms. During our chat, I couldn’t help noticing our bus was lost – more than once. The guide and the driver had several urgent discussions, telephone calls, and changes of direction. I surmised our team had not been to our destination before. The final phone call resulted in our arrival at a walled compound. The wall had electric wire along the top.
Here was Criss-Cross Adventures and we were allowed toilet-time before entering the ‘jeeps’ – and the gates opened into our new riverside experience. I had expected safe nana-rafts, but no, the six canoes on the back of our ‘jeep’ were fully big, two-person, solid canoes. I’d be up a river with a proper paddle. Gulp.
Luckily, as a single, I was able to sit next to the driver, the manager of the business, an intelligent young woman who agreed our bus driver and tour guide had not visited Criss-Cross before. She was frustrated by the system which meant every day she had to guide the guides as well as the tourists. She’d been brought up both in South Africa and England and spoke four languages fluently. Lucky Criss-Cross.
After parking, we watched the three workers manhandle the ships towards the river. I meandered outside cruise control which allowed me to be allotted Andrea, a German tourist not on QM2, for a partner. I don’t speak German and their English wasn’t great, but I saw he and his girlfriend were wearing actual boatie canoe shoes and I understood they were both super experienced. His girlfriend was partnering her friend and there were two others in another boat. So, their party of five got a Reluctant Cruiser as a plus one.
Most of the time the current floated us gently along the khaki-coloured water with Andrea acting as engine while I coasted along gaping at the surroundings. How fantastic, to be in South Africa, on a river, in the fresh air, using muscles. Well, sort of.
Under a brilliant blue sky, we paddled down the brown, lazy river, looking up at eucalyptus hanging hot above sandy cliffs rising over the rushes and bamboo. Is everything introduced? A good example of the mixing of plants around the world. The guide shouted clear instructions and safety warnings for a couple of reasonable white-water encounters. We took turns to get through tricky bits, calling out that yes, we were safe, before the next vessel started off. Andrea told me to leave it to him, but I suspect it was my cleverly placed and strong paddle strokes that helped us get through unscathed. We got on well, especially after his girlfriend, in another craft, was stung by some wild unnamed South African beast. There were screams and fears of every wild animal, caught in hair and nibbling on soft white tourist flesh. We made our way over the water to the panicked duo, and I applied my best motherly soothing queries to the trouble. As I mentioned, my bag was in their canoe waterproof container, and I encouraged them to open the outside pocket and give me the small white spray bottle they would find therein. STINGOES! As every Australian knows, with one spray, you’re away. Within five minutes the pain and terror had subsided, my bag was reinstated into waterproof container, and I had five new German friends. Who says language is key to communication?
We saw a bee-eater and the most extraordinary Goliath heron, huge, like a brolga, with a massive knife-sharp beak. We saw a malachite kingfisher, lots of African darters, crows, and a magnificent fish eagle. There was a section of the river where weaver birds had created little lantern nests. They dangled from the bank of the river swinging from bamboo stalks as if lighting a parade. The poor male must build, weave, and knit grasses into clever designs to attract a mate. But if she’s not impressed, she nips off the endeavour and it lands on the ground, never to be any baby’s home. All or nothing for the weaver bird.
We were invited to park up and take a break at a twist in the river: juice or beer, snacks and chips, and a good dousing of mud for our shoes as we climbed in and out of the canoes. Back in the boat, with his long legs, Andrea artistically swooshed his little canoe shoes in the water to rinse them as we pottered downstream. This was not an option for my heavier boots and the fact I was cornered in the bow. Back on the land, we waited while the workers loaded up the heavy canoes. This was not a job for a weak person and presumably it would only be possible to do it for a limited time. Our guide admitted that he would be doing a National Park tour that afternoon so perhaps he was transitioning to an easier life.
We were returned to base where everyone rushed to the toilet, then connected with wifi and rang up their families. I said goodbye to my new German friends, asked to scrape off the worst of the mud from my boots, and rejoined cruise life. The next instalment of our shore experience was the Braai – a South African barbecue.
Our busload of hungry cruisers lined up at a long table by a huge fireplace while the drivers and guides prepared our food. I was offered a huge plate of salad and steamed veg while the carnists scored toasted cheese sandwiches and salad, sausages, and IMPALA.
In short, Mark told me, QM2 has four enormous engines in the depths of the ship’s hull using diesel, or heavy oil. Two turbo engines are on the top of the ship, behind the Queen Mary 2 sign, using the equivalent of expensive aviation gas. They’re designed for extra boost power through rough weather or to make up time. Most of the time the ship is running on diesel.
The four Wartsila engines can each burn 3.1 tons of heavy fuel oil per hour at 100 % load. The two General Electric turbos can each burn 6.1 tons of light oil per hour at 100% load. That’s a lot of tons of oil on board. You can read that again.
There are no drive shafts turning propellers, taking up massive space inside the ship. Instead, there are four Rolls Royce Mermaid Pods weighing 260 tons each, suspended under the ship. These tractor units – like propellers but backwards – they pull the ship through the water – are powered by electric engines. Two of these azimuthing pods (azipods), used as rudders, can rotate 360 degrees, which explains the ease of manoeuvring the ship into tight spaces. Two are fixed in position. There are also three bow thrusters that help move the ship sideways.
Electricity is generated by both the diesel and gas turbines. The biggest user of electricity are the azipods but air-co, refrigeration and heating – everything – is distributed by a main switchboard.
I thanked Mark. This information would be invaluable when I found an engineer to (interrogate) talk to – at a cocktail party – or somewhere!
Us cruisers finished our lunch, the workers thanking us even more than we thanked them, and I climbed back onto the bus to hear Melanie’s tale of woe. An experienced canoeist, she had partnered with our smart young tour-guide, Siswayle, a surprise learner. I had noted his beautiful shoes were covered in mud when we’d reconvened. Melanie was able to debrief after her near-death white-water troubles. Siswayle agreed. He had not enjoyed canoeing up the river. He prayed more than he listened to his partner. And his trousers were ruined. Melanie would also need time to recover.
Glossy green leaves of citrus trees contrasted with the orange dirt. Piles of oranges and lemons at the corners of the farms. Pickers at lunch or gone home by the time we’d finished. A warthog ran out in front of us, and the driver barely slowed down enough not to clip it. The poor thing ran in front of us for 100m or so and finally decided to swerve for the verge. No roadkill in evidence, unlike Kangaroo Island.
Many people hitchhiking, the public transport unpredictable at best and non-existent the rest of the time. Some folk didn’t bother looking both ways, taking their lives in their hands and striding across the road. As with the warthog, the driver barely slowed but we all survived.
On the way back to the port, us cruisers fell silent as we drove through the townships. Siswayle explained they normally avoid that route because there are often protests, burning piles of tyres and throwing bricks. But today everyone was calm and, in his words, minding their own business.
Dramatic contrast between rich and poor areas – Siswayle called the poorer suburb, ‘Get up and Go’ or ‘Move Up’, perhaps rephrased as start small and succeed. He used to live in these shanty towns and, as he grew up, moved to the cleaner, tidy suburbs. We passed his old school and wondered at his determination and the power of prayer. He would have to buy new shoes.
Survival as seen from the windows of a tour bus.
Then there were cars, manufactured here in South Africa and positioned to load into car transport ships.
Full moon already? Couldn’t it wait for Easter?
DAY 25 – at sea – passing Cape Aghulas, the most southerly point of the continent of Africa.
Met Jane at the bow deck. We watched a trio of white birds suspected of being gannets. When one flew sideways, she named it a Cape Gannet with the aid of her trusty bird ID app. She’d been initially undecided as they looked small, and she’d thought perhaps shearwaters or petrel.
The library has no book on seabirds – not even a poster – and it wouldn’t really matter because of the dearth of wildlife so far.
Sir Bob Geldorf is offered up as enrichment for the ‘guests’. He appeared in the Royal Court Theatre clad in a crumpled white suit, lounging louche low in his chair. His talk was livestreamed to the cinema next door and to the internal tv system. I chose to skip art class and watch the speech from the comfort of my own cabin. I was impressed by Neil, the Entertainment Director’s interview skills. He welcomed the knight, asked him ‘How did it all begin?’ and sat back to let the great man answer, only coming in at the end to admonish the speaker’s spicy language.
Sir Bob spoke with eloquence, learning and prescience. He feels the problems of the world: climate change, nuclear proliferation, economy, are global. Current UK and USA leaders are nationalistic, and, amongst his other aims, Putin is trying to destabilise the EU.
Sir Bob admitted to being a pattern-seeker, and feels we are on the brink of some great thing. He noted the build-up to WW1 began with new technology leading to a new economy and the old guard resisting. He pointed out WW2 only finished when the Berlin wall came down and the internet was invented. Now there’s a new global economy and the old guard is resisting strongly. Change is coming. What will it be? How will your grandchildren survive? Can they?
His advice to cruisers was to put the news away, talk to children and try to avoid shouting at each other. He shook his hairy grey tired head and said,
It was rainy and our guide was strict and stressed. Kaaaren loved to count. Unfortunately for her, this group of cruisers preferred to look at things like adults and didn’t like to be counted. A group of elegant ladies up the back of the bus began to giggle early on and eventually reverted to sixteen-year-olds running away from the big, bad teacher. We would have preferred Kaaaren to count us at the beginning and end of the excursion and not during. She liked to gather the group together and count whenever she could, and her strategy failed early leading her to further stress. As we approached, she thought the Fort was shut, but some of the naughty girls had run on ahead, returning to report that it was in fact open, so Kaaaren had to get marching and do some organising. She found a young guide who could recite his lessons very fast with some panache.
It was a typical military place, with grounds and pleasantly furnished buildings for officers and less comfortable spaces for soldiers, and even a torture chamber for naughty people with a cat o nine tails. Not even that threat could stop our well-dressed ladies sniggering.
Kaaren invited our busload to walk through the oldest garden in South Africa, the Company Gardens, with her in the light drizzle but also pointed out the museum and the gallery. Given the inclement conditions I chose the South African National Art Gallery and loved the mashup of old and new. I found some of the work, and some of the juxtapositions inspiring, passionate, and provocative.
Due to the rain and mist Signal Hill had limited sightseeing opportunities, like to about three metres. Kaaren would have liked us to stay on the bus and get counted, but the gang piled out and milled around regardless. She only began to relax when she realised she’d not lost anyone and it was time to go home.
Two of our 680dotcom team, Andrew and Ray, endured their own thwarted bus tour due to the mist. They drove all the way up Table Mountain and could see nothing. Apparently the cloud is common and known as The Table Cloth. On their return to the bus, their guided counted, recounted and and recounted in vain. Someone was AWOL. Due to the clash of the numbers, they waited for the missing person to return. And waited. Had the person become lost? Fallen off the Table? There was no return and it took an hour of waiting before they were informed the missing person had returned to ship on another bus.
I suppose the paper ticket system has been going for years but, as all the information is on electronic record, it should be a simple matter for each guide to have an ipad with a list of their class. Why, it could even include notes about naughty children!
On our return to ship, I jumped straight on the shuttle bus to a big waterside shopping centre near the port. It was a mall offering all sorts of restaurants, supermarkets, and specialty shops but no postoffice. Given it was Easter holidays it was packed. Found lots of snacks.
In food notes: speaking with Richard, our Head Waiter, I mentioned my minor disappointment I would miss a hotcross bun as they contained cow and egg wash. He said he would place a special order for me. When would I like it? I didn’t like to be a trouble. He said, nonsense. Would I like it tomorrow? On consideration, given I was only having the one, I felt I should abide by tradition and said the Sunday breakfast would be ideal. He was only too happy to organise it for Ms Osborne, the only vegan in the village. (He didn’t say that.)
DAY 27 – CAPE TOWN
Major excursion day to Cape Point. And the Cape of Good Hope. And MORE!
Warning. The Cape of Good Hope does not have a lighthouse or tourist facilities. It’s just a car park and a rocky outcrop.
All in all, it was a pleasant, traditional bus tour with entertaining guide PLUS a fantastic meal overlooking the water. Tofu ‘fish’ slabs with chips and salad. A berry fruit salad that made all the bored ice-cream eating carnists sit up and pay attention. They began to look around and cry out that indeed, they were vegan too! Too late, flesh munchers!
At the Royal Court Theatre that night saw a 23-year-old ventriloquist called Max Fullham with good puppetry skills and lots of cute in-jokes. But, notes, Max: not enough delineation between the characters. Need to be strict about what each character knows. If your main gag is that puppet ears can hear and puppet eyes can see, then a bare puppet head won’t have those abilities until their ears and eyes are available. But a youngster holding the attention of people older than his grandparents, that’s an achievement.
DAY 28 – at sea – left SA very late. I was awake to watch the delicate manoeuvres, reversing and exiting a slim margin into potentially dangerous winds. Because the side of the ship is so wide it can catch the wind and cause all sorts of trouble. We were five hours late and all safe.
Very strange to leave the cinema where I’d been immersed Benin’s landscape with Viola Davis in The Woman King – absorbed – beautiful moments – full on violence. I feel a sequel coming on. As I stood up to go, an elderly lady wearing a necklace of glittering stones behind me, the only other in the room, asked what the film had been as she’d been late. I told her and made admiring comments about the performances and story matter. She said it sounded interesting and thought she might like to stay for the second sitting. Did I think she’d like it? I asked if she liked violence? She said, ‘Oh no, not at all.’ I told her I didn’t think The Woman King was for her.
I listened to more of my talking book, Les Mis. So much information about Cosette’s nunnery. He bangs on, does our Victor. An info dump is still an info dump even if your book is a classic. At least I got through the battle of Waterloo – almost my Waterloo really. But the story of Cosette’s rescue is riveting. The greedy innkeeper vile, stubborn and persistent.
Richard saw me coming and sped off to fetch the hotcross bun. After some time, lucky Ann was there to chat with, he rushed up with two buns! I can’t really comment on the quality. The thought counted.
On the way to Namibia. It is surreal.
DAY 29 – NAMIBIA – WALVIS BAY – Africaan for Whale Bay
The port is the centrepiece of heavy industry. Surrounding that are new suburban estates and further out are sandy buildings and then there’s sand dunes and the desert.
Very nice to begin our tour with striding flamingos in a lagoon. From tidal flats we were then taken to a dry dune. The specific tourist dune was closed for some anti-tourist reason so this one was given as our option, a popular destination for dune buggies, dune bikes and short walks. Our guide was more about the fun than the facts. She said it was her birthday. Was that fun enough for you? We dutifully clambered up the dune.
I wondered about some little marks I’d seen on the sand – away from the tracks and foot prints. The guide thought it could have been side winder snakes, black widow spiders or scorpions? If creatures live in the dunes should people be riding rough shod quad bikes over them? I guess where we walked in our little bare feet the scorpions would have been long squashed.
Then we were driven to a suburb organised by German settlers. Of course, as part of history they’re no longer allowed to alter colour or shape but Germans still pay a large part in education and development of Walvis Bay. We parked opposite an open air market where trinkets and fabrics could be bought from apparently authentically dressed tribal people. But if you went anywhere near, to pass to the museum, for instance, you were swamped by blokes crowding and pushing stuff at you and making continual suggestions about the provenance and quality of their wares, and, as a single female, I found it overwhelming enough to bypass entirely.
The museum was mildly interesting.
Ended up in a quiet, clean, touristy Made in Namibia shop. Paid top dollar for some hand printed cushion covers as a gift for son in Australia. Had delightful chat with woman behind till with long fingernails. She’d also enjoyed watching The Woman King and would love to work in the movies. I encouraged her to find out where the sure to be sequel would be made and, keen as, she put her long-nailed hand up. She would do it! She would even learn karate!
I have no idea why I chose that shore experience. I even forgot to mention the crystal museum – essentially a rock/gem shop – very boring but nice rocks. Avoid.
Elaine, one of our 680dotcom team, had chosen to visit a community where everyone lived in tiny tin and cardboard shacks. Andrew had been taken to a desert where a strange looking plant with only two leaves lived for hundreds of years. I went to a shopping centre and a museum with a fun guide. She did drop us off at the beach and encouraged us to photograph the sand. Then when we returned to the beach we enlarged the image to reveal hundreds of different minerals and coloured stones in the sand. She also pointed out the massive offshore ship repair unit. It looked like an oil rig from the distance, but apparently Namibia is known for the ability to run repairs on fishing vessels without them having to go into drydock.
The container cranes near our ship were lit with bright green. They look like Christmas dinosaurs with red eyes.
The Captain’s report on departure mentioned an almost 360 degree turn. It was certainly a remarkable thing to witness. I went up to the Observatory to stand directly over the bow as we proceeded out of the long, thin (130 metres across) shipping lane to get out of the bay. Taken slow and quiet on smooth waters, the journey was hypnotic and some of the buoys went by very close.
Please note this is a multi-page post recording a 14 day sea voyage. I was the only passenger on CC Coral, a container ship travelling between Taiwan and New Zealand, in November 2019. It was an alternative to flying. But was it any more sustainable?
First night at sea. Mr Wang, my driver, had been a shipping agent for 25 years. He couldn’t understand why this giant of a company, CMA CGM, wanted to take passengers. Why? Other freight companies did not bother.
Well, Monsieur Wang, I was glad they did for they offered exactly what I wanted; a no-fuss way to travel without flying. I also felt comfortable that CMA CGM wore their environmental aspirations on their website. Mr Wang swooped the car around the grand driveway of the Excalibur hotel, lined with a small city’s worth of sparkly blue and white lights, and parked. We were there to pick up the new ship’s reever-electrician. (Whatever a reever is – it’s super important – I’ll find out later.)
From October to November 2019 I travelled from England to New Zealand to join a family reunion in the South Island. This blog series details my thinking, decisions and then the stages of the actual trip. It took much more money, probably more emissions, and a lot more time than flying. I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures, perhaps reading some of the account, and researching your own train/ferry/ship journey!
Ningbo had only just built a subway system. Very easy to use, clean and straight out of the train station, I soon found myself walking unfamiliar roads toward my hostel, thank you, maps.me. I’d chosen the hostel for its proximity to the Ningbo port. Now I no longer needed that connection it was far from Ningbo proper. Began to have misgivings as I walked in the busy highway to get around the construction zones. When finally broached, the hostel was better than many I’ve met (particularly on the Camino!) and had lovely pods in which to shut yourself away. The common-room was filled with young people intent on their devices, the boys mainly playing League of Legends on screens that varied from huge to tiny. Couldn’t see the kettle.
I need not worry about my onward travel. Real Russia had sorted my ticket to Fuzhou and it would leave from where I’d just come from. I’d collected both paper tickets at Beijing South Railway Station. So I could relax in the slightly grubby shower and prepare to find food.
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
Please note this is a multi-page post. Although my trip took 6 days, one hour and four minutes to complete, it won’t take you that long to read! That said, you might need a cup of tea and a little snack to take with you.
Tuesday 15th October 2019 – NIGHT ONE – TransSiberian/Mongolian – boarding the train at Yaroslavsky Train Station, Moscow – 23:55
Two middle-aged men in uniform greeted me at carriage five with some bemusement. They frowned and flapped my ticket. ‘But, do not fold it,’ I cried out mentally, thinking Lena from Real Russia would be shocked to see their carelessness. They gave the precious paper back to me and one fellow ambled inside. Without anything else to do I followed him and he pointed at my compartment and my lower berth number 9.
I said, ‘Xiexie,’ (‘Thank you’ being the limits of my Chinese so far) and he blinked at me before he left. This was not the same train as my previous shiny new Russian train. This was an antique Chinese train. It felt a bit rickety and there was no fancy screen showing time and temperature on the wall. Could it have been a steam train? I could definitely smell coal. Everything smelt of coal in the carriage.
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
On the train (Tågskryt!) from Berlin into Warsaw I sat next to Simon. He lived in Berlin and was not a DJ. Proof that not everyone in Berlin is a DJ. (See previous post or if you’re brand new and want to read about planning this trip, here’s Part I ) He was editing music on his laptop, working on songs to play with his new band, the Soft Boyz, chill electro-jazz, so watch out for them in the future. Simon comes from Warsaw and loves to spend time with his family – he speaks to his mother EVERY DAY. He is saving up to travel through South America next year. He told me the best things to do in Warsaw are to visit the Polin Museum and to take a walk through Praga (no, not the city, silly) the artist’s side of Warsaw.
Kind Simon actually walked me out of the underground maze and pointed me in the right direction. It doesn’t take long to get familiar with a place but those initial first few minutes … Do you remember those 3D hidden picture puzzles? That’s how I feel when I stare at a map of a new city until it comes into focus. Takes a day, normally. I was very grateful to the first citizen of Warsaw, Simon. I hope his travels in South America find him many kind and helpful people in return.
When I asked my Airbnb host, Alicja, she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t go to Praga, it’s dirty and violent.’ So I didn’t. (Actually I ran out of time!)
But, Alicja could name three vegan restaurants within five minutes walking. Cake for dinner!
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
On the rails again, I was encouraged to see so many windturbines, not only through the Netherlands but also in Germany, as the train trundled over the border. We also passed workers building an enormous solar array in the middle of lush green pastures.
On passing through Gouda, I reflected on the illustrious history of that cheese and the many times I had enjoyed a sumptuous slice on a cracker. Which lead me to contemplate the current lack of (cows milk) cheese in my life. No bad thing. Imagine if, when breastfeeding Felix, someone had snatched him away to make me ‘donate’ my milk to other beings? I suppose, when our cows were Daisy and Buttercup out in the back paddock and we were all friends together it might have been different but now there are billions of us drinking billions of café lattes and billions of little calves snatched away from their billions of bellowing mothers. What happens to the baby cows? The things you think on a train …
The verdant green paddocks flashing by my window were divided by slim, flat channels of shining water. Wooden fences, trees and fat ponies were interspersed with modern buildings and power lines. The old and the new sat back to back in the Netherlands, like the woman in the Rotterdam memorial to the fallen facing sadly down to the past and the man with the spade looking up for a new vision.
Netherlands is trying to shake the Holland image – Holland being only one part of the country. I’m shaking off the Netherlands! Onward! Forward, forward went the rattling train, into the next county, the next region, the next country. Human muttering, snuffles and snores surrounded me all the way to Amersfort.
Amazed how stressed I became when I couldn’t find a notice
board giving me the onward time and place for my connection. I had to go
outside the station and find a tiny little screen well-above head-height to
spot it. It did not show on the platform screens for another twenty minutes.
It’s difficult turning up bright and early, prepared and ready, when the
systems are not ready for you.
A pretty young blonde sitting in my seat, innocent as you please, said, looking around at her fellow gang, ‘Oh, most of us don’t have reservations’, as she snuggled in (to my seat) and looked smug. The rest of the passengers seemed to nod but I may have imagined that. They might have just looked down to avoid my eye or read their book or check a piece of fluff on their shirt. I passed on to lean on a patch of wall with the other too-lates-for-a-spot. I remembered the summer of 2016 when I had travelled on a Eurail pass, two of my German trains had neglected to add my carriage. Clambering into any available wagon, many of my fellow passengers squeezed into corridors, sat on the floor or leaned on their luggage to while away the hours. Perhaps this was normal in Germany. When the ticket inspector came along he made no comment to those hogging the reserved seats, looking carefully at each ticket and then grudgingly approving them. When he gave my ticket the required grunt, I asked about my seat number. He said, ‘Well, you should go and sit there.’ I explained that I could not. ‘But you reserved it.’ Shrug. And he said, ‘Well, she should move.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think she wants to.’ And he said, ‘She has to.’ And I said, ‘I can’t make her.’ And you could see the exasperation in his eyes. ‘She has to.’ And my silent shrug made him decide who was in charge. He marched toward the pretty blonde but pretended he didn’t realise it was her, looking around at all the seat numbers innocently, creeping closer to his prey. She didn’t like it but he persisted and soon enough she was packing up and the seat was mine. The woman next to me said, ‘Awkward’ in that funny American sitcom kind of way. I said, ‘She’s young. She can cope.’ And the woman leaning next to me smiled and said, ‘That’s the rules. Unfortunate.’ BUT NOT FOR ME!!
I had desires to buy a coffee and eat my sandwich but her blonde companion sat beside me like a disapproving thunder cloud, crossing her long legs uncomfortably against the seat in front of her like a thin-legged crab trying to get into a shell. Her judgement lay across me like a forbidding arm.
The train stopped to change staff and take a break. The voice said you could go outside for a smoke so I went to look out of the door. Ah. This is the sort of thing I could expect on the TransSiberian. Pausing. But I did not want to risk losing the train so I did not set foot on the platform plus, you know, tobacco smoke. It was only for a few minutes and I’d left my run a bit late. Still. Got to practice the idea.
My Hamburg walking tour – sadly forgotten guide’s name – mainly because she lost ME – began by the water (river Alster) next to a Venetian looking shopping mall, Alsterarkaden. She was an excellent speaker. She told us that one in forty citizens of Hamburg was a millionaire. And there are more billionaires registered in Hamburg than anywhere else in Europe, maybe the world. The rivers were full of ships and boats of all sizes and shapes, tangible evidence of supremely successful trade. I was also reassured of wealth and comfort by the chateaus grandstanding in the leafy suburb near my cosy Airbnb apartment.
Not sure what the people sleeping in the street imply, tucked up, silent and hunched, in their sleeping bags in shop doorways and alleys. One was even curled over into a wheelchair. What sort of life is that? Hamburg was cold.
The guide told us the city has been built and destroyed over and over again in its long history. It was originally a fort surrounded by three rivers, Alster, Elb and Bille. Water is more than life-blood. It is food, drink and communication channel. It is wealth.
A couple of young lads rolled up on their little scooters and peered over shoulders. When the guide asked them if they were joining us they said, ‘Yeah, nah,’ and I knew we were in the presence of Melbournians. ‘Yeah, nah, we’ll just park the scooters.’ We walked up from the river, part of the lake now, up to the Hamburg Rathaus (town hall).
The Rathaus is canvas writ large with historical figures and symbols.
At the rear of the Rathaus to look at the Goddess of Hygiene in her fountain, chosen because of the cholera epidemic as a result of the Great Fire of Hamburg. The fountain is cleverly used as part of an intricate cooling system throughout the building. When the water trickles, it must be summer. In the winter it’s turned off or else the pipes will freeze and cause all sorts of trouble for the Rathaus.
We walked to the Patriotic Society – a kind of NGO for growing community – and found a group of several small brass squares embedded into the footpath outside. These little squares, called Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) by Gunter Demnig, are now all over Europe (apart from some places where they do not think walking on memorials is a respectful act). I’d seen them before in Lubeck. She explained they were memorials for those persecuted by the Nazis, regardless of religion. They give names and dates but cannot tell much more of the story apart from their placing. These particular people must have been members of the Society. Our guide explained that when locals go about their business they often keep their eyes down and they will see those names, and perhaps be jolted. That those who notice will have to look down to read the names and therefore will be bowing.
She told of meeting an elderly man on his knees in front of the plaques when she was delivering her tour. He was polishing the brass. When asked, he explained that his father was a member of the SS and this small task, polishing these little squares of metal, were a way for him to atone his inherited feelings of guilt.
We moved to Saint Nicholas, a blackened wreck of a church, which has been left as a site for memorials. It makes for sombre visiting. Most of Hamburg was bombed by the allies. It is now thought to have been the most bombed city in WWII. The allies decided to force the citizens to decide to give up – they rained down white fire on Hamburg for ten days and nights. The white fire was so powerful it drained oxygen from the air, sucked life from deep inside bomb shelters and killed old, young and creatures alike. When offered the choice, Hamburg quickly surrendered.
My father was a navigator in the Royal Australian Air Force. I do remember him talking about Dresden. He thought the destruction of Dresden was one of the greatest crimes of his war. He talked sadly about the beauty of that small city before the allies had smashed it. I don’t think the Australians were involved in bombing Hamburg. He did not talk much about his war, apart from jovial remarks about his only injury coming when he’d drunkenly fallen off a gate. I knew he’d been shot down in the Mediterranean because his brother, Syd, told me so. His crew had been rescued by a British submarine that surfaced metres away, saying clearly and commandingly to ‘Douse that light, you … ’
I did not inherit any guilt about these bombings. As far as my education and assumptions about WWI and WWII went, we were on the right side, we won and we did the right thing. My grandfather and my father told me so. I could not help but think of those who are suffering in wars at this time. Have humans learned nothing but arms deals?
My walking tour took a break in Starbucks. I could not remember ever having taken food or drink in one of those before. I really enjoyed my almond-milk hot chocolate but the three other Aussies (from Melbourne) despaired at the quality of their coffees. ‘Yeah, nah.’ Making faces they said things like, ‘Disgusting.’ ‘Medicinal.’ ‘Don’t do it.’ Think of all those poor little calves and their milking mummies.
Then we visited the surviving 16th century buildings near the beginning of the Great Fire, some of the few old buildings in this city. They not only survived that fire but also both world wars. These are strong buildings. See the tidal marks on the foundations?
We progressed towards the harbour proper, still river water. When I started chatting with Debbie, a ceramicist from Florida, we lost sight of the group. More and more tourists and locals out for a weekend stroll swirled around us. I thought I saw the other American on the tour wave at us but perhaps I was mistaken as our dash to catch up was fruitless. So I never did get to hear the end of the guide’s story. But Debbie and I talked about Extinction Rebellion and the gritty reality of American politics until I had to meet my friend in St Pauli, the edgy side of town.
I met Tanja at StrandPauli, a funky beach themed café. Wish I’d taken some photos but we were too busy gossiping. I met Tanja at a Christmas yoga retreat near Seville nearly ten months ago. Later we walked down to the Elbphilharmonie (or concert hall on the Elbe). She told me the glass for the windows was difficult and expensive and when you see the melty bends and flexes in the surface of the glass it is easy to understand why. Apart from the fact it’s very high up and really, will people notice that, or the tailor-made light bulbs that also had to be made internationally?
The next day was sunny and delightful. I wandered from my little apartment to the old fishing village area, Treppenviertel, now a gentrified suburb for some of those millionaires!
I wandered and waited to catch a ferry from Blankenese (white nose). Had no idea where the ferry was going so I wasn’t surprised when it seemed to be driving towards shallow water, a surly bridge and an opening gate.
There was an aborted landing attempt, presumably because the open gate was releasing a force of muddy water (were they dredging in there?) twisting the ship around at unpredictable angles. Our ferry had to push away from the dock and regain composure mid-stream.
I did wonder if we were to go through the gate but finally, with much bumping and clanging of those big metal pillars, we tied up, folk disembarked and new passengers ran to get onboard. Then we sat again. Cigarettes were smoked. Babies’s chins were chucked. The sun was brilliant. Glorious day. Expectation remained high amongst the other passengers. We would surely be leaving soon. Wouldn’t we?
Went down to ask about buying a ticket (and our destination) in this luxurious autumnal cruise and found my daily train tick was ample and I would change ferry at the next landing. Eventually we got underway.
Back we went to Blankenese, carefully avoiding the mudflats pimpled with small birds.
No hesitation here. Off we went into deeper shipping channels and new industrial vistas. It is a huge port.
The main reason I came to Hamburg was to check on the assertions given to me by young peregrinos on the Camino. They all attested to the great beauty of Hamburg. No, really. It was far more beautiful than Sydney harbour. Much. Well. Yeah. Nah. I don’t think so. Sorry.
For fellow travellers who might notice errors and omissions, please add your comments. In fact, all comments welcome!
Once I established my travel would be by train and sea, I turned, with some trepidation, to The Man in Seat 61. The Man lists each step of the travel.
I hasten to add the trepidation was not due to any doubt about his veracity and, in fact, I wrote him an email thanking him for making even imagining this journey possible. He wrote back, saying, ‘Enjoy your trip!’ I felt a long way away from actual travel. I didn’t even have a ticket or a visa or immunisations or those … unknown unknowns … like a destination.
First things first. Following his suggestions, I was almost
certain I would be travelling from Singapore to Australia by freighter ship.
These ships are cargo carriers; they’re already going this way, there’s no song
and dance, it’s a working transporter. They take few passengers and those
passengers are left to themselves, pretty much. Sounded ideal. The carbon is
already spent before I got involved. I would just hitch a ride. (For something
like $4,000 Australian dollars).
Agencies for cargo travel
To begin, The Man advises getting in touch with these lovely
Reading through these websites reassured me that freighter
travel was safe, comfortable and within my physical capabilities. I sent emails
to all concerned and within a week had four quotes from Singapore to Australia.
They were all within much of a muchness but there were certain differences. It will depend on what you want to do and where you want to go as to what you choose. Yes indeed. Just where did I want to go in Australia? Fremantle? Adelaide? The next stop, surprisingly, was Sydney. Then the ships seem to loop back to Melbourne after that.
The Man in Seat 61 blithely recommends travel through several Asian countries to arrive in Singapore. So many different languages, borders and currencies – I imagined basic survival was going to be taxing – especially as a vegan!
Roman Road in Spain. Personally I think hortensia is a much nicer name than hydrangea, don’t you?
You ever play ‘Risk’? It’s a game of world domination. You can’t play it by yourself. You have to play with others. You can’t play it above board. You have to play it in corridors of power (on the way to the toilet, in the kitchen, quickly on the veranda … ) And you never had those meetings. Your fellow players were mistaken. They never saw what ever they thought they saw. Allies are made and unmade in the space of minutes. It’s an all night, all weekend kind of game. It’s a lot of fun. Or not. Sometimes arguments are serious. People slam out the door, never to be seen again. But you can see the whole board at once. You get an idea of the big picture. And it changes. When it changes, it changes fast.
My father always told me I was a citizen of the world. Born in England to an Australian father and a mother who happened to be a New Zealander, I’m lucky enough to have been raised in those three places. I also lay claim to a bonus three years in Hong Kong as a child in the sixties. I may not have seen the whole world but I’ve seen the colonies. As I entered the last third of my life, I wanted to see a bit more of the board. I left Australia to travel to Spain in 2016.
Among the millions of people travelling the planet that year were people who were not playing above the board. As we now know, some meetings took place, which discussed alliances new and old. Some people swear they’ve forgotten all about them. Maybe they never happened. Or maybe they did. Or maybe you’re mistaken. Or maybe, what have you got to lose?
I was on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Camino Primitivo, the first camino made effectively to keep the Moors down south) when the Brexit referendum result was announced. I walked up a Roman road with two Irish women. One was called Elizabeth and the other was called Mary. They both wore black leggings to mid skinny shin and only carried light bags because their husbands were carrying the big weights. They were staying in hotels along the way as opposed to my more humble albergue lodgings.
Elizabeth I, The Ermine Portrait http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/queen-elizabeth-i
The Bloodthirsty Queen, Mary I http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/bloody-mary-marriage-reign-and-death-queen-england-004122
Queen Victoria in her coronation robes http://qvj.chadwyck.com/marketing.do
And so it was that Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria marched up a two-thousand-year-old road in the North of Spain arguing about Brexit. Invasion irony.
The Victoria (that’s ME!!) carried a British passport and therefore had the most to lose. The Mary and Elizabeth were from the Republic of Ireland so their country was like to benefit from Brexit. It was rumoured that everyone was searching for their own personal Irish granny to get a nice Irish passport. Ireland would be part of the UK for the foreseeable future. Mary and Elizabeth were adamant that Brits who voted for Brexit, who believed those ads on sides of buses that turned out to be out and out lies, should be able to control their own religion. Religion? What sort of financial logic was this?
I began to feel uneasy. What sort of media were these people named for English queens reading? What was the priest telling them from the pulpit? Who was paying the piper? Was I merely feeling unsettled because I was travelling?
Not long afterwards I enjoyed one of those ‘free’ walking tours in Munich. They’re pretty good fun – for the price of a movie ticket you get some historical gossip and an introduction to the lie of the land and major monuments. The tour guide, a personable young blond fellow really from Munich, was laughing about the fall of London. Laughing. No, really, he thought it was hilarious that British people had been so careless with their place in the hierarchy. He thought, well, he hoped, Munich was next in line to the financial throne – as a growing metropolis with get-up-and-go technology and German ingenuity – Munich should be the next King. Lots of new jobs, lots of new businesses; the centre of Europe has to be in Europe, right? (Paris is looking good, Madrid has been mentioned … )
Brexit meant checkmate. The king (and the current Queen Elizabeth II) was out of the game. Europe’s financial king was dead. If you were playing Risk, and countries had formed a strong alliance, you’d want to break their stranglehold on the markets, wouldn’t you? You would want to take that alliance by the back of the neck and give it a good shake. You’d shake it so hard you’d rip its bloody head off. You would utilise the oldest strategy in the military book. You’d divide and conquer. How hard could it be? Who was likely to benefit?
Had Europe become complacent? Would Europe be safe from attack? WWII was regarded as the Hot War. Then came the Cold War. When David Hasselhoff brought the Berlin Wall down with a song, it was the dawning of the age of the Internet and if you weren’t wanking you were chuckling over dancing kittens. Communication became so personal it was impersonal. Information exchange went so viral it evolved into anonymous, flung itself into trolling and then started mining for gold. Not just Warcraft gold. Everyone was muttering, ‘there’s got to be a way to monetize this new-fangled social media’. Guess you could sell ads?
And so came Trump. After Brexit I wasn’t even surprised. I’d suspected, after living through the desperate red-necked Australian male backlash against Gillard that a female Clinton would never get elected. Clearly there are some rich oligarchs who preferred an unpredictable buffoon to come out and dance madly on a strange glittery media minefield tweeting like a canary while they set about sucking the wealth from whatever backroom deals they could.
If you used to be the head of the KGB and you had amassed unimaginable wealth (think large dragon curled up on mountain of gold and jewels) why wouldn’t you want to disrupt the power balance of the world? Why wouldn’t you send a few Facebook messages out into the social media bubbles? What have you got to gain?
When Trump was elected I was living in a small town in Catalunya called Blanes. I used to go to Spanish lessons, which was silly really as most people in the small town spoke Catalan. The local lady in the bakery said, when I asked her if I should learn Spanish or Catalan, ‘There’s no point in learning Catalan. Catalan is a dead language.’ So I went to Spanish class. In our little group we had a Brit for a while and an Italian girl but mostly I had two slender young mums for company. The blonde was from the Ukraine. Her husband was a politician. She was a lawyer and lived in Lloret del Mar, a tinsel town disco dive the next stop up the Costa Brava. She had a couple of children who commuted to school to Girona. The darker woman had one son and she was from Russia. They lived near my favourite beach, Cala San Francesc. The area was crowded with houses owned by Russians who visited just once a year. There was a lot of Russian money in Blanes. I met Irina in the gym. She was from Russia and worked in reception at a Russian hotel nearby. I used to think it funny, the blonde from the Ukraine was the complete opposite to me. She never wore the same shade of lipstick twice, much less the same clothing. She loved shopping, preferably in Dubai. They had three houses, one in Lloret, one in the Ukraine and one in LA. She spent a few hours a day working online and then she was free to shop and go to the gym. What do you think she was doing online? I have no idea.
Girona was the first place I saw the giant banners that boldly stated ‘Si’ hanging next to the finger-drawn blood stripes in the yellow sand of the Catalan flag. There’s too much passion, blood, and dragons, in Catalan history.
Now I’m working in a primary school in Asturias, a place where locals are struggling to get their language, Asturian, recognised as an official language. Last week I watched a child leap from his desk, cross the classroom and attempt to strangle another child for merely looking at him. It’s just truth that some people believe they are more entitled than others. Some of us get jobs and others get sent to Manus Island. Snakes and ladders. But do you have to kick the ladder over as well?
If you were playing Risk, and you’d killed the financial king of Europe, why wouldn’t you want to destabilise the rest of Europe? You get Spain all stirred up, you might even break País Vasco – getting France hot and bothered for the price of one. And if the hot and bothered turns into war, why, just so happens you’re an arms dealer. And arms dealers are always open for business. Security Council rules.