Columbus sailed to the Azores


Due to a delay in refuelling, we didn’t leave our berth in Amsterdam until midnight, by then we were snug in our cabin.

A sea day means that on waking we read the morning ship’s daily magazine in earnest and plot what we are going to do in between meals and the evening entertainment. Today would have been my first visit to the gym but a sore ankle that I have been carrying for a couple of weeks now wasn’t improved by yesterday’s city ramble so that activity will have to wait.

We did attend two quizzes, a bingo session and an interesting lecture on Liverpool.

We are starting to become familiar with the layout of the ship and are now not having to retrace our steps as often, but I guess that means that we are getting less exercise, but to compensate we have decided not to use the lifts and are stretching our legs up the many stairways.

There was a formal dinner and this was preceded by the Captain’s Welcome Reception (DJs etc. worn). We were first in the queue to be presented to our tall Greek ship’s captain, a mild-mannered man with a soft handshake. After our photograph with him, we sat in seats alongside a single elderly lady from Germany who was second in the line. After a glass of champagne there followed some very delicious canapes, then several more glasses of plonk while we waited for the captain to shake the hands of all the other guests. While we waited we chatted (as best as we could) with our seating partner. Her English like our German was not expansive, but we managed. We discovered that she was 79 yrs old, she was on the World Tour (120 days) and would be celebrating her 80th in Mumbai. She lived near the Dutch border but started her cruise in Tilbury rather than Amsterdam, I think that she was annoyed that her travel agent had sent her on flights from Dusseldorf to Amsterdam then Amsterdam to Gatwick and finally a long transfer to the port in Tilbury to catch the ship, when she could have got on board in Amsterdam. However, she looked quite a fit and alert lady for her age as proved by the fact that a couple of years ago she spent 4 months flying around the countries of South America, that’s a brave thing to do at any age. When all hands had been shaken, the captain along with the rest of his senior heads of departments, took centre stage and introduced themselves and wished us a pleasurable journey.

The show was a dance extravaganza called appropriately ‘Anchors Aweigh’, well-known nautical tunes danced to in a variety of sailor outfits and accompanied by the ship’s resident singers with support from a ‘well oiled’ Sue, the champagne either has magical qualities or the alcohol content was high.

Our evening meal was again with Ian and Diane with the remaining two place settings remaining stubbornly empty.

The following morning in addition to attending the quiz sessions we played Jackalo, a long board game where you push wooden discs down a board, trying to get them through small openings that attracted various scores. It was fun but frustrating, there were lots left for improvement.

The afternoon was taken up with a lecture on first names, we followed that up with another quiz and then a game of Scrabble. As we transfer from one activity to another, we pass by others that seem quite enticing but then you can’t do everything, can you? However, we did sit for a while and listen to the passenger’s choir being practised, they were singing Moon River and it was really rather enchanting, such a shame Sue and I have voices that replicate mating toads!

The evening entertainment was a stand-up comedian from Wolverhampton, he had an excellent repartee of gentle humour that didn’t upset any category of the human race (mostly) too much. A quality essential for any entertainer on a multinational cruise ship if they wish to attract a lengthy or repeat contract.

The 9th was a full activity day with the usual quizzes and lectures, but I opted out of a seminar on pain control with Sue and went for my first session in the gym. On meeting up back in the room I learnt that Sue had also left soon after me, disappointed at the focus of the lecture, which appeared to be that pain was not good for you and that it was a symptom of something being wrong with your body. Now that wasn’t a surprise to her, so she retired early for coffee in the restaurant. Perhaps the next session may be more informative.

We did watch our first onboard film, a Liam Neeson action movie called “Commuter’. An entertaining but far-fetched plot that required its audience to ‘buy into’ the idea that his 60yr. old character could fight like Mike Tyson and that some very powerful and rich people were scoundrels who wanted to keep secret their dastardly ways. I could only align myself with one of these concepts, the other was too ridiculous to contemplate. Can you guess which?

The evening show was a pantomime, Aladdin, having witnessed a much more professional production in Kettering over Christmas this version was hilarious because of its blatant amateurishness lots of fun and laughs from the audience and cast alike.

We have taken to doing a couple of turns around the deck after our evening meal and it has been noticeable that on each occasion it is becoming warmer as we head further south. Summer days are here again.

The ship has 1200 passengers and 620 crew from 28 nationalities, there are no children on board (it is an adults-only voyage), the age range of the passengers certainly weighs in favour of those in the retired bracket but there are a few from 20+ years upwards. It’s not many, other than the retired or of certain professions that can afford the time off for a cruise of such length (120 days completing the World Tour). There are a few passengers that are working on board whilst enjoying the facilities, I did come across a writer the other day, he was complaining bitterly about the lack of WIFI in all parts of the ship, but I have seen others with heads buried into their laptops with screens displaying spreadsheets, word-processors and other work-related software. So far I have resisted the temptation to ask what they are doing and why.

We are now becoming familiar with the faces of our fellow travellers and the greetings are becoming warmer and more familiar as the day’s pass. As we are all in the same boat, we have the incentive to get on with each other and chat, no meal passes without an exchange of pleasantries and then inevitably the conversation comes around to: How many cruises have you been on. Where are you disembarking? Where are you from? Have you been to ……. There is no mention of UK news and definitely Brexit has never been mentioned (so far), not even by the foreign passengers. What a relief. If the conversation lasts for any length of time then relationships and children are discussed. We were surprised to discover that many of the couples we meet and chat to are not married or even partners, they met on a past cruise, live separate lives in different parts of the UK or Europe and meet up on board when it is the next time to cruise. It makes sense, rather than pay a hefty single supplement for each cabin, book as a pair and share one, which saves a lot of money. We have seen on past cruises a slot in the activity timetable for singles to meet each day, I guess this is where it all happens with the result being evident on this ship. There are no timetabled singles activities on the Columbus (job already done), but there is a club called the ‘Friends of Bill W.’ It is where any gay or lesbian passengers get into contact, they meet every day at 5pm in the Aft Observation Lounge (someone has a sense of humour).

We docked gently into Ponta Delgada at 8am with hardly an onboard shudder. If our alarm hadn’t gone off at the same time, Sue and I would have been unaware that we had reached our 2nd port of call. At breakfast, we could see that it was a grey morning and the town was already bustling with activity.

We had holidayed in the Azores a few years ago so didn’t feel the need to join any organised trip to discover the island, we had already done that and decided that we loved the place. The day trippers had already left the ship for their adventures by the time we disembarked and ignoring the polite requests of the taxi drivers at the end of the pier, we plunged into the town with its pretty black and white cobbled streets and emersed ourselves into Azorian culture.

First, we headed for the one focal point from which we knew where everything else was located and that was the Collegia Hotel, which had accommodated us on our previous visit. It was still there, unchanged and still felt like a warm, safe sanctuary if needed. Why do we always return to places we have visited in the past?

The nearby Arts and Culture Museum (Dept. of Sacred Art of C Machado) was open, we had attempted to peruse its contents several times before, but on each occasion, it had been shut, after paying 90 cents for a 1Euro entrance ticket (it was all we had and we are pensioners after all) the staff kindly waved us through. The building was a retired church, originally built by the Jesuits before they were thrown off the island during the reformation. The large and impressive altar was intricately carved with the most complex groups of designs and characters we have ever seen. Like so many others it was originally going to be covered in gold leaf but the Jesuits left before it was finished and in our opinion, it is much better for it. Our miserly 90 cents appeared to provide us with our own personal guide who gave us the complete history of the building and of the many other artefacts in the rest of the museum. We completed our visit with a display of Azorean roof tile production, I found it particularly fascinating (I don’t think Sue did) as a few years ago my stepbrother and I had re-roofed his Bulgarian home with similar pantiles.

We returned to the ship for lunch and then headed back into town, first visiting an ATM to collect some of the devil’s coinage, the Euro. The next stop was the Palace of Santa Anna (Jardim Do Palacio De Sant’ Ana) and its gardens, the site contained the current Azorean President’s offices in a very impressive, obligatory black and white mansion-like building. The palace was off limits so we meandered around the beautiful gardens, conveniently the trees and shrubs were all labelled, inviting them to be read and discussed, which we did.

Not yet satisfied with our intake of floral knowledge, sights and smells, conveniently a short way down the road was the Botanical Gardens (Jardim Botanico Jose Do Canto), it too possessed an impressive building that was off limits to us, but only because the original home of Jose De Canto is now a 2-star hotel. We first explored the little chapel of Santa Anna close to the entrance and probably where Jose used to pray. The gardens themselves were vast and home to a great many species of trees and shrubs, again all labelled and all required reading. It took some time to oblige, but I don’t think we missed many. However, one large specimen insisted on dropping its seeds onto us painfully from a very great height, after checking that it was the tree playing games and not (as in the past) a troop of monkeys amusing themselves, we hurried on without knowing its species, original location and dimensions. He shall remain an unknown.

The next port of call was the fortress down by the harbour. We had taken many photos there on our last visit so as my feet were sore (my watch was telling me they had taken 11597 steps since waking) we checked that it was still in the same condition as we had last left it and went back to the ship for a much-needed coffee and feet up.

The evening show was an excellent concert of classical singing with violin.

The captain promised us a sea swell of 4-5m throughout the night and the whole of tomorrow, this should be interesting.

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