Trip to France, Spain and Portugal

Mike and Judy Henderson
September 1 to September 25, 2017

We've done a fair amount of travel in Northern Europe and some in France and Italy, but very little in Spain and none in Portugal, so when we saw this Vantage cruise, we decided to take it.  We'll take some extra time to visit Granada, Madrid and Barcelona after the cruise ends at Málaga.  (Note that both Málaga and San Sebastian are misspelled on the map.)

As sort of an "extra" we get to go through the Gibraltar strait towards the end of the cruise.

9/1/2017  We're off for London today to catch the ship for our cruise.  But, first, we have the difficult task of putting our baby in boarding.  He takes it pretty well, however.   It allows him to be a dog with the other dogs.

 I always take a picture of Judy and me as we leave, and here's the one for this trip.

The limo was on time and traffic was not bad going to the airport - we arrived in plenty of time.  Here's Judy at the airport with the limo driver.

We're traveling Air New Zealand for the first time.  They are a Star Alliance member so we got to use the lounge.

We didn't have a long wait and soon we were at the gate.  The plane is a Boeing 777-300.

On board the the seats are arranged in herringbone fashion, which is not very good for two people traveling together.   Judy and I had seats across an aisle and it was almost impossible to converse. There was a cute "chat" feature on the touch screen to get around that problem.  Better seating (than across an aisle) in a herringbone arrangement would be two seats next to each other.  But better still would be a different seat arrangement where we were seated side-by-side.  Other than the seating, the service was excellent.

We're off.

Just one more thing about the seating on the flight.  The way the seats are set up, there's a "jump" seat at the foot of each seat.

It can be used for two people to have a meal together, but Judy reported that the seat is not very comfortable.

9/2/2017  After many hours and a few hours of sleep, we crossed the coast of Ireland.

And soon we were coming in to Heathrow.  That must be the Thames down there, with the London Eye on the right bank.

After we landed there was a horrendous line at customs.  Luckily, we had been given a priority card and were able to get through fairly quickly.

The Vantage driver was waiting for us when we came out of International Arrivals, and our trip to the hotel was uneventful.

As we were checking in, our tour director, Michael Jones, came up to us and introduced himself.  I guess we just looked like American Tourists.  I took this picture of Michael later.

The hotel is nice, but definitely not a four-star hotel.  Our room is on the small side and older.  But it's clean and well maintained, and it has very good Internet access:-).  Looks a bit messy because we immediately took a nap - before I took this picture.

At 6pm, we all got together for a meeting with Michael Jones and for drinks and dinner.  This is definitely not a Disney cruise - the passengers are all older, like us!  There are a total of 61 passengers on this cruise.  It is sold out, meaning all the staterooms are in use.

9/3/2017  Today, we're going to travel to Poole to meet the ship.  But first, we will get a driving tour of London with a guide, and lunch of "fish and chips" at a London pub.

We had breakfast in the hotel.  Here's Judy with two of our new friends, Merrill and Gennaro, just outside the restaurant.

Soon we were loading up to leave.

I don't really have any pictures of the sights we saw because we saw them in passing.  We did stop to see the Tower Bridge and I took this picture

Then it was lunch at this pub.

It was a long drive to Poole - with lots of traffic - but eventually we made it.  Here we are at the port.  It had been raining during the drive, but it stopped by the time we arrived at Poole.

We were bussed to the ship. I had to stitch two pictures together to get this shot.  The bow is to the right.  The ship is the Variety Voyager and is 223 feet long.  It has a capacity of about 70 passengers but there are 61 on this trip, with all cabins occupied.  It carries a crew of 32 to 33, giving about a 2:1 ratio of passengers to crew.

Judy and I booked this cruise very early, essentially just after it opened up.  In looking at the pricing, we noticed that the Owner's Suite was not that much more expensive than the cabins on the same deck, so we decided to book the Suite.  Here's a view of it, looking into the bed area.  We do appreciate the extra room.

After we had a chance to settle a bit, we had the lifeboat drill.  The captain, Andreas Sifniotis, handled the drill.

Here's Judy modeling the latest in floatwear.

After the drill, it was time for dinner (about 7pm) and after dinner we headed to bed.  We actually left port before everyone finished dinner and when we cleared the jetty the seas were a bit rough.  The captain later told me that we were heading into about 3 meter seas. Our cabin is in the very front of the ship and ship rose and fell in the seas.  It really beat us up until we got into bed.  Even with that, we were able to sleep most of the night.

Some of the passengers are older and have mobility problems.  I was concerned that one or more would fall because of the rough seas and hurt themselves, but I did not hear of any problems in the morning.

9/4/2017  By morning we were approaching St. Malo, and the seas were slacking. 

We had breakfast as the ship headed into port.  There's a lock that we have to traverse to get into the port.  There are significant tides in the English Channel and the lock allows the port to stay at the same level all the time.  Here we are entering the lock.

Two additional boats joined us in the lock and they closed the gates and began flooding the lock.

Eventually we got to our berth and the buses were waiting for us.

It was about an hour drive to Mont Saint-Michel.

We had a guide who took us through the fort/monastery.  It was a long walk, and a lot of steps, to get to the upper level, but the view of the area was magnificent. 

To give you an idea of the height, here's a view down to the road leading in.  When the tide is exceptionally high, that road is under water.

The tour took us through most of the site - the guide did a good job.  I won't try to replicate that tour - check the link for more information about Mont Saint-Michel.

We were back to the ship about 2:30pm and had a late lunch.  Judy and I are going to walk through St. Malo and I'll post this much of our blog from one of the WiFi access points.

[Side note:  I can't upload the pictures and text from the ship so we had to find a place in St. Malo that had WiFi.  We found a bar that offered WiFi to their customers so, of course, we had to have a couple of beers.

So here's your faithful scribe working away on the computer, uploading this blog.]


Our Adventure continues here.