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Thursday, 16 May 2013

Fancy going to Venice for the day...?

When someone asks you that - the answer is pretty simple.  And when it's P & O Cruises asking you to go and witness a historic moment, the answer is even more of a big fat yes.  I love cruising, I love ships and I love Venice.  Ships aren't just big pieces of welded metal - ask anyone who holidays on them.  They're special, they are sailing caskets of treasured memories and good times, evoking all sorts of fond emotions.  So to be at the very start of a new ship life is a wonderful thing to witness.  And surprisingly fascinating.
What's the new ship called - I hear you ask?  Ah well (taps nose) that is a big secret for now.  I wish I knew.  And who is the godmother going to be?  Well, I am denying the rumours that it's me... mainly because it isn't.  All will be revealed.  But then, you don't always announce the names or the godmothers of a child children until it's a little bit further down the line, do you?
The P & O posse, comprised of a very jolly bunch of reporters, photographers, bloggers, cameramen, the head honchos of P & O Carol Marlow and David Dingle, our wonderful organiser Michael and my lovely journo friend Keith 'Father Christmas' Hamilton assembled at the unearthly hour of 6.00 at Gatwick airport. 

The lovely Michael and Keith

Even at that time in the morning, we were off to Venice - how could anyone be grumpy?  The strong Starbucks coffees helped.  Flight was fab - we landed in Italy to clear blue skies and sunshine (you know that yellow thing that occasionally makes a flash appearance here).  Then it was off to the Fincantieri shipyard near Trieste after the briefest glimpse of the lovely canals of Venice.  The countryside was stunning - fields ablaze with red poppies.  And oozing with Pinot Grigio grape plants.  I shall be seeing those little fruits when they're a bit older and sitting in bottles ;)
We were there for the keel laying ceremony - the first block of the ship laid, the start of a new sailing life.  In years to come, when it's sailing towards me, I'll be able to say 'I saw that being built'... just like my old grandad did because he worked on the Queen Mary when she was built on the Clyde.

Thank you for matching the hardhat to my outfit...and the bus!  Very thoughtful - P & O.
Michael, resplendent in his virginal white hardhat.
Speeches are made in English and Italian, anthems are played, a Priest blesses the keel and then it is swung into place - all 500 tons of it - at the press of a button from Carol.  What you might not know, as I didn't, is that the ship will be built like a huge jigsaw puzzle - all the pieces are pre-formed so they can be slotted together and welded firm.  And when you see the hole in the ground that the ship will fill... you realise just how big this girl is going to be.
A big chunk of keel
This is half the hole which the ship will fill
Carol and David looking happy because it's quite simply a perfect day and a jolly ceremony.  Everyone is smiling.

Milly and Father 'Keith' Christmas
 Then what could be better than to go and seal the ceremony with some Prosecco and the most fabulous buffet ever. Whoever made this cake should be canonised!
This ship is going to be the biggest one made for the British cruising market and, if it does what P & O promise and steals all the best features from its gorgeous ships, then it really will be the best.  Just as long as it sells Ice Wine... then I'll be happy.  We had big discussions about Peller's Cuvee Ice Wine yesterday... if you haven't tried it... oh you must! - you need to stock up!
I saw the new Royal Princess ship in the yard too - one which, fittingly, Kate Middleton will name and be the Godmother of.  I hear ...shhh... Natasha Bedingfield will be trilling at the ceremony!
After that lovely, buzzing, international buffet full of gorgeous Italian hams and little pots of rice and delicious chicken and bean dishes and... well, one of the tastiest buffets my figure has ever had the misfortune to encounter, we climbed back on the bus to celebrate in style.  In sunny, gorgeous Venice, catching a water taxi down the canals to our destination in San Marco.
Travelling down the canals of Venice is an absolute joy
And when in Venice, and you have a special toast to perform... where better to go than the famous Harry's Bar for Bellinis.  I must confess, it's a place I have always wanted to go but never managed to find.  No wonder - it's so understated from the outside with only etching on its glass doors to tell you it's there.
Inside it's quite small and the sort of place you might expect Hercule Poirot to frequent.
A Proscecco and Peach Bellini.  If you're in Venice - you just have to...
Harry's Bar is next door to this place - our dining venue for the evening: The Monaco Grand Canal.  (just to the left of St Mark's Square if you're looking at it from this angle).  A building not unlike a Tardis - this hotel is so deep, I never found the back of it!
And sitting at the table... this was my view...
The evening menu... as modelled by the lovely Keith...

Well, I just can't tell you how gorgeous it all was.  The food was exquisite, the wine was as beautiful as the view and the company was fabulous.  I've always wanted to have dinner in Venice and it excelled all my expectations.  The sun blessed us, squeezing its every last drop out for us, shining brightly on the buildings and the water, just making a very special day totally and utterly perfect.  It boded well for the new ship, we all thought.
And, as well as a day crammed with lovely memories, I was given a souvenir of a piece of the same steel from which the keel was cut.  Wish I could be around to see my great great etc. grandaughter trying to get it valued on Antiques Roadshow in a few hundred years :)
We caught a water taxi straight back to the airport, boarded the 10.50 plane home and zonked.  The hotel bed in the Gatwick Hilton was a very welcome sight... but I could have quite happily stayed in Venice and woken up there.  My next aim is to do exactly that.
So - always wanted to say that I was 'jetting off to Venice for the day' and now I have.  Perfect day - thanks to P & O for inviting me to share such a lovely experience and I look forward to sailing in the 'new baby'.  After all, I knew her when she was nowt but a twinkle in the shipyard's eye :)
Milly x