Friday, August 04, 2006

Commuting 'round the Med - Part 2

On to Portoferraio, a maiden call for the QE2 (which excited me less than it might have done) and my first experience of the tender. A tender is, as far as I could tell, a small boat with barely enough space for a family of four, on to which they cram 150 people, having dropped anchor a mile away from shore, and motor them across the choppiest bit of water they can find. If nothing else, it made us all appreciate the stablisers on the ship, a hitherto unheralded feature, and reminded us that the sea is, in fact, a pretty dangerous place for the uninitiated. Nobody was actually physically sick ,although The Wife did have to pass the guy next to us a bag just in case, but none of us were disappointed when the reached the shore and our feet touched dry land. The land in question was the island of Elba, once home to post-Waterloo Napolean, and the main attraction is a house where he dwelt for a few years before heading to Corsica for that fateful encounter with arsenic-laced wallpaper. I am ashamed to say that, even though as a successful shortarse he should be one of my idols, The Wife and I decided to forgo a tour of the house itself - there was a big queue and it was uncomfortably hot. We were knackerered after a long day in Rome, and settled for an espresso in the delightful town centre, before returning to the ship on a less crowded tender for lunch and, of course, an afternoon nap.

Next stop was "the Hollywood Boulevard of Europe", Cannes. We had missed the film festival and the advertising festival, and presumably lots of other fesitvals, but the place was still awash with beautiful people disporting in various states of undress , strategically placed to ensure that they would be seen by as many people as possible. Posing, in other words. It was another tender job, but this one was somehow gentler than the last one - poccibly because I knew what was coming. On reaching the shore, we made for the Musee De Quelquechose (I can't remember the exact name), resplendent in our poshest Summer get-up (because as The Wife put it, you never know who you might run into in Cannes). Now Cannes is not renowned for its museums, but on the basis of the one we looked round this may be unfair. It comprised a collection of ancient artefacts recovered from across the world by the eccentric chappy who founded it, from Egypt and Greece to Mesopotamia, Persia, and China, and on to South America. These pieces themselves included wedding charms, sarcophogi, paintings and musical instruments. It was fascinating. Emerging into the baking midmorning heat, we descended into the main shopping area, thankful (at least in my case) that it was Sunday and lots of the designer shops were shut. Then, unable to resist any longer, we made for the main promenade for a bit of posing, finding a cafe packed with Adonises and Venuses chomping on champagne and caviar, and enjoying an espresso while marvelling at some of the driving on display.

On the Monday morning we arrived in Barcelona, another of Europe's great cities and a veritable treasure trove of architectural wonder. Our goal, however, was not the cathedral (we weren't allowed in, as The Wife's shoulders were exposed), nor the Picasso Museum (it was shut), nor any of Gaudi's masterpieces. We were there to shop. For handbags. We got one, too, from a huge department store we discovered after a tip-off from a woman at the harbour. Then we rambled up the Rambla, and hadan espresso from a outdoor cafe next to a McDonald's. After that, we hopped back on the air-conditioned motorcoach and headed back to the boat for - you've no doubt guessed it - an afternoon nap.

As Tuesday dawned, the boat docked in disputed sort-of-colonial British territory, Gibraltar. Unimpressed with the queues at the bus stop, we walked, in sweltering heat, into the town centre, where we found a taxi to take us to the cable car station. The idea, you see, is to take the cable car up to the top of the Rock, and then wander down again. Our taxi driver did his very best to persuade us that in fact the cable car was in imminent danger of collapse and we were putting our lives on the line by getting on it. We would be far better, and safer, he said, to give him more money and let him take us up to the top in his cab, with the benefit of his expert local knowledge thrown in for free. Breezily, we declined, and joined the queue of excited tourists waiting in the baking Sun for the gates to the station to open and admit them. After a few minutes of stifling temperatures, however, we tired of this waiting, and requisitioned another taxi along with a family from Liverpool with whom we proceeded to exchange barely a word. The driver took us all around the major sites - the caves, the quarry thingy that the Brits used to fire cannons out of, until finally we met the famous monkeys. Kind of cute, but also kind of scary. Just like humans, really.

And that was that, as far a ports of call were concerned. Three more days at sea provided us with ample opportunity to stuff our faces, get sunburn and make fools out of ourselves at karaoke and dancing. On the Friday, at 7am, we arrived back in Southampton, indulging in one last full Enlgish breakfast before hauling our considerably expanded frames, and our luggage, off the boat and back to the normality of real commuting. I know which one I prefer.

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