Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Christmas at Gatwick–and Beyond!

Sorry we haven’t blogged for a while – it’s been very pleasurably hectic and James has smashed yet another camera which has made things awkward yet again!

After a really relaxing Christmas day in the Crown Plaza, Gatwick whiling away the day ………

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….. with a Champagne picnic …….P1080451

…. and more (free) drinks in the bar!

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Boxing Day saw us flying to Las Vegas where, just before landing, we got a super view of Lake Mead – the huge lake / reservoir made by the Hoover Dam.

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The Luxor hotel has been our home for the last few days – this is the inside bit of the pyramid. The “ridges” are walkways to the rooms and the corners are the lifts (all at angles to make life interesting! We have been lucky and have been given a room in one of the towers which are quieter.

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At night the “strip” is alive with noise, activity and lights.

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This is our view from our room of the Excalibur hotel next door.

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One of the most complicated hotels is “New York New York” constructed to show some of the buildings the city is famous for. 

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Sitting in the middle of the desert the mountains are never very far from view.

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Since our last visit the architecture has changed to much cleaner lines – even though it looks as though an earthquake has just struck!

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More new hotels are springing up just off the “strip”.  They are huge!

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Inside the very new “Vdara” hotel there’s room for the biggest Christmas tree we’ve ever seen.

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The Bellagio hotel is as wonderful inside ……….

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……. and outside as ever.  This lake outside the hotel is where the dancing fountains perform every 1/2 hour or so.

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The Parisian hotel is easily spotted.

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Face booking!

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Inside Caesar's Palace is quite extraordinary.  This is inside the building not outside.

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the lights dim at night to give the authenticity of night time.

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The Venetian hotel is just something else ……. the pics say it all!

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St Mark’s Square --- again, the ceiling are painted with blue sky and clouds and it’s really pretty at night.

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A little “treasure” outside the Treasure Island hotel.

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The wonderful Fountains of Bellagio.

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We travelled out of the city one day – a 500 mile round trip to the Grand Canyon, taking in the the Hoover Dam on the way.

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The turbine halls way down at the bottom of the dam.

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Lake Mead (which we saw from the air when we arrived) is way down on water level as can be seen from the white rocks.  If there’s not significant rainfall soon the lake will be dry by 2020.

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On to the Grand Canyon – the most spectacular of sights.


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We arrived mid afternoon when the sun was beginning to set.

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It’s changed since we were last here: the rock on the edge of the promontory  has toppled over!

 

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It was quite cold with some snow at the edges of the canyon.

The entry is a bit rushed as we’re in Las Vegas airport and just about to board a domestic flight to New York for a few days over the New Year.

We take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and healthy New Year!

Monday, 15 December 2014

“Queen Elizabeth”–A Picture tour of the ship

We’re on the last leg of our the cruise with two sea days, crossing a calm Bay of Biscay and entering the English Channel, so it only leaves for a selection of photos of the inside of this beautiful ship as we come to end of our voyage:

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This is part of the Grand Lobby with Viscount Lindley’s superb marquetry panel.

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The Grand Lobby looking from the Lindley staircase - this is an amazing space.

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The Royal Arcade (of shops), the staircase and Casino (below to left) and The Golden Lion (below to right).

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The upper section of the library ……..

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…….. and, down the spiral staircase, to the lower section and looking out towards the Grand Lobby.

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The lower section of the double staircase of the Grand Lobby.

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The ground floor of the Grand Lobby from a side lounge.

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The promenade at the side of the Queen’s Room.

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The Queen’s Room. Home to evening balls, other major social events and the glorious afternoon tea.

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The Red Lion pub …..

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……. and the bar to the Red Lion.

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The Queen’s Arcade and staircase with the Casino to the left.

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One of the three access stairways ……..

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……. and one of the three elevator halls which complement the stairs .

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The stunning Winter Wonderland display by the catering department and made entirely of edible products.

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The lower section of the Britannia Restaurant ……

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……. and, in the restaurant on the penultimate evening of the cruise (as is usual) we had the Chef’s Parade, when we are able to show our appreciation of their incredible hard work. The food is generally a work of art and just how these people are able to produce such things as the most perfect Souffl├ęs and Baked Alaska on a production scale is quite beyond us.

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The last photo should perhaps go to the iconic Cunard funnel (which has been the most daring to take!). We had to trespass into “Queen’s Grill” territory in order to get this pic. as this small area is reserved for those who wish to spend their hard-earned dosh in their own way.

Tomorrow we’ll wake up in Southampton and, as is customary for us, we’ll self disembark as early as possible. We’ve very much enjoyed the cruise and the company of some really lovely people over the last couple of weeks. The ship is stunning in it’s appearance and condition (having also had a bit of a refit recently) and, for us, it’s similarity with P&O’s “Arcadia” has meant that we were instantly familiar with it’s layout. We must try it’s sister ship “Victoria” (also very similar) sometime as she seems to be preferred by quite a few of the passengers we’ve spoken to – and, we suppose, the icing on the cake has been that we’ve missed all the cold weather in the UK!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Lisbon and Vigo

Yesterday (Friday) we berthed in Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.  The city was shrouded in fog for most of the morning which caused us to inadvertently walk in the wrong direction to start with.  However, this had an advantage as it took us to part of the Alfama district.  This is the oldest and most picturesque part of the city which survived the great earthquake and fire in 1755.

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Alfama is full of quaint, narrow streets, some of which are so steep that steps are the only way of moving around.

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The streets which are negotiable for traffic are still very steep and the little Tuk tuks, with their lawn mower engines, struggle like hell to carry their burden of tourists.

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We love getting off the beaten track and finding local cafes for a beer or coffee (1 Euro 50 for a beer and a coffee!)

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Outside the cafe the old wooden trams thunder down the steep hills - just missing the cafe door!

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Wandering these lovely alleys and streets we came across a vantage point where we could get a marvellous view across the pantile roofs to “Queen Elizabeth” at her berth on the River Tagus. (the fog was just beginning to clear at this point!) 

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There are some gorgeous views to be had if you can find the right places …….

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…… and there seems to be something amazing to ponder around nearly every bend.

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The Cathedral (now mostly 14th century) was built as the spiritual home of the first bishop (which happened to be Gilbert of Hastings in Sussex!)  Trams, cars and Tuk tuks battle for space outside it’s main entrance (the trams usually win!)

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We eventually arrived at the more touristy areas – dramatic and fantastic in it’s own right is the elegant square known as the Praca do Comercio.  The bronze statue is King Jose I, and in the background, is the massive Triumphal Arch. The carvings on both are extraordinary.

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Perhaps the most intriguing thing we found was this! ……

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……. where, inside, you could choose whichever colour of toilet roll you felt like at the time!

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As the fog lifted we could glimpse the lovely Tagus Bridge across the river – built in 1966 it’s the second longest suspension bridge in Europe.

This morning (Saturday) we arrived in Vigo as, due to rough seas last night, we couldn’t get into Oporto as planned.  Before we got off the ship to visit this lovely town we had a quick game of darts in the Golden Lion pub ……

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……. with Entertainments Officer Neil …….

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…… who drafted in bar steward Miro to make up the numbers.  We lost of course!

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“Queen Elizabeth” towered over the little harbour of Vigo.

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Again, walking around the back streets, we came across some of the towns quaintest architecture …….

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…. with Flea Markets clustering around the church entrance  ……

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…… and the Praza da Constitucion looking good in its Christmas decorations.

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After a wander along the beautifully decorated main shopping street we returned to the ship for a game of deck quoits.  As we get closer to the UK the temperature is dropping fast and we were perished after the game of quoits!

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As we are not leaving port until 8 o’ clock we popped out again to see the town’s Christmas lights.  Looking back, the ship looked equally as special ……

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Well, we have two sea days ahead of us before reaching Southampton, Vigo being our last port of call.  The wind is building and it seems likely we might have some rough seas to pass through – we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a calm passage.