A fourteen night Med cruise on P & O Cruises Azura was ours then. A port-rich one - 8 in total - so not many sea-days which suits my big lad who prefers to be out and off, though I love my relaxing lazy sea-days. We take the Eavesway bus down to Southampton, they leave from all over the country and take you directly to the docks. No worries about getting stuck in traffic (which we always do) because these bad boys are allied to the cruise company and if it arrives late, the ship will wait for you - which it won't do if you're held up in your Fiat Punto. Once our bags are loaded on at Barnsley, we don't see them again until they are outside our cabins. Our holiday has begun.
We pull in at a service station where the lads have a rubbish burger and we are handed our change without a thank you. It always happens. We have come to look forward to the change which will happen within hours. Delicious cuisine and being called 'ma'am' (me, not the lads) And someone making my bed for me.
A hark back to my childhood when we got all excited about spotting Blackpool Tower on the horizon, we get the same feeling looking for the first view of the ship. I should have grown out of it by now - but I haven't.
...And we have set off. Despite the fact I could have got a free glass of champers at the sailing off party, I always find I just want to get the clothes hung up and then I can relaaaaax.
And though those bottles of champers were tempting... it is TRADITION that I have a glass of Pellers Cuvee Rose in my lovely Glass House. It tastes of holiday, ergo it is a must.
Oh boy did we sleep.
Seaday the next day - so we headed off to our wonderful Glass House for lunch/breakfast. What is it when you get up at 12.00? Tapas for me, fish for my big lad, steak for my little one (who is bigger than his brother - with me so far?)
It's traditionally a formal night on the second night. Bay of Biscay was sort of behaving - a cheeky little force 4/5 so we got tarted up ready for dinner. Ooh - what is that at the door - more champers and canapes. You do know how to spoil a girl, P & O!
We had club dining - same time every night (6.15pm) same table, same waiters: Linus and Dhana in our case - lovely boys!
I have spent the years between thinking that he must have thought me a right knob.
And I have been in his company a few times and never dared speak to him. Hi remember me? That woman you thought might be trying to chat you up on the staircase using a ridiculous story about a novel?
But - A Spring Affair featured an Italian/Yorkshireman and a woman who loved cooking - I wasn't lying. How could I not put him in it? Sacrilege! Just after it came out, I did Come Dine with Me which featured an apron with that book on it and my sales went through the roof. It changed things for me and MPW was my good luck charm - and I'd always wanted to tell him that. And as we were posing for that pic, I did. And he was delighted and we had a right old natter - and it was one of the highlights of my holiday. And that long dark shadow of 'knobness' was at last lifted.
And so to the next day. Vigo. There is a fab beach there but we just plodded around for a bit. I had forgotten a pair of shoes but was rescued on finding a Clarks in the shopping centre. With a sale on. The kids, thirsty for WiFi were rescued also.
We didn't miss the ship.
Livery looks great on the ship doesn't it? (Forgive the photos. I don't think David Bailey is worried for his job)
And then we set sail for sunny Lisbon. Had a lovely day sitting in a (WiFi) cafe with a great lunch, soaking up the sunshine. Getting under the bridge as we leave is always a moment when you feel you need to bob your head.
Then off to Gibraltar for a poke around. There was a sale on in BHS and I bought a top. How's that for international shopping. The duty free prices, I noticed, were greatly reduced from what they usually are. I think Gib got a bit greedy and then realised that people just weren't buying anything. Mum and dad benefited from a £6 litre of Bells whisky on that trip.
And I was performing that night too. First talk - both sittings - about my books. People turned up. Including one great elderly guy who came to buy a book afterwards at my post-show signing. 'I hope you don't mind me saying,' he began, 'but I only stayed because I had some beer left in my glass. And I thought, what the bloody hell is this, when you first started talking...' Anyway, to cut a long story short, he stayed for the whole thing and turned up at my next talk too. Sold out of my entire stocks of Here Come The Girls that night.
We had a day at sea then. Little lad was in the pool, big lad was doing something mysterious on his phone which had something to do with wifi no doubt. Lovely lazy day. I went for a massage in the spa - a 50 minute back, neck and shoulder massage with a Chinese masseuse called Grace. It was borderline abuse what she did to my spine with the points of her elbow - but strangely marvellous. I could have stayed there all day.
Then, the next day, we went to Monte Carlo which was boiling at 10.00am in the morning when we walked up the hill to the famous casino. I'm standing between Adam and Eve by the way. To look thin, stand between fatties.
Big lad at the casino with the Azura in the distance
Some VERY nice cars there and yachts. I wasn't greedy - a little one would have done. And obviously I practised a bit of french and partook of some local wine. French wasn't very good though, because I actually asked for a spag bol.
Oh then off to La Spezia - from where we would be transported to the delights of Pisa and Florence. This isn't an actual picture btw because the bus was going too fast to capture one BUT we passed fields and fields of dying sunflowers. I was actually moved to poetic thoughts to see them. They were all being loved to death by their beloved sun. They were drying out to make oil - millions of them. It must have been a real sight a month or so ago when they were in full bloom and I'll make a note to go back earlier in the year to see them. God I love sunflowers. Did you guess?
It was 42 degrees mid afternoon. Gorgeous.
Me and Dave
We had lasagne in a cafe that sprayed out water vapor, we had ice-cream, we were in a little bit of heaven. My big son found a Stone Island shop and took some great selfies (very important for teens).
Then for tea we went to the new Beach House (which used to be the Italian Verona) and sailing out of La Spezia was stunningly beautiful. Such a perfect day (cue: Lou Reed)
Now Rome, the next day, was an adventure and a half. 2 alarms set failed to go off, which meant that when I woke by chance at 7.45am, there was a mad dash on as our excursion was setting off at 7.50am. Benny Hill music started up and we - don't ask me how - made it. We had booked the Roma Express, a train into the city instead of the bus, and it was beautiful - like a mini Orient Express.
Alas the Trevi Fountain was under reconstruction so we had to console ourselves with massive ice-creams. BTW, the Hop-on, Hop-off bus was 18 euros each and definitely worth it.
It was HOT. Which forced us, conveniently, to park in a free WiFi cafe for a while, far more interesting to teenagers than a colosseum. And it was such a nice day we went back up to the Beach House for tea - cooking steaks on the lava stones so they were perfect for our tastes (a rare, a medium and a well done)
I knew I was getting lazy because this felt like self-catering!
Corsica the next day and more stunningly gorgeous yachts.
(WANT! - you listening, Santa?)
And my second talk - all about cruising. People-watching and Missed Ships. A worst nightmare for many people (missing the ship you cheeky thing, not my talk) And it was tropical night, hence the get-up. Hard to compete with that but I was pleasantly surprised that both talks were packed out. Someone even clapped.
At sea the next day.
Formal night - so dress up time. Someone said we look as if we belong on a Martina Cole cover. I could live with that.
I'm quite proud of this slice of sunshine shot...
Check out the swimming pool on the top layer!
Had a quick Money Spider in the Glass House when we came back. Look how Olly Smith describes things. Don't you just want to dive in? He should write profiles for internet dating, you couldn't resist could you?
Great theatre shows on board, by the way - we saw something every night. Gary Barlow tribute act (brill) The Headliners theatre company (which was very Yorkshire-heavy. Even a Barnsley lad in there). We love the shows! Even big lad goes. Little lad retires to the cabin and orders a room service spag-bol. It's 'tradition' he says. Can't think where he has picked up such a ridiculous saying!
There was too much on to even make it to the lovely sea-screen which I love (sitting in the open air on a sun lounger with a blanket watching a film - cocktail obligatory). Anyone who thinks they will be bored onboard is out of their head.
Then it was a sea-day. So we had a lunch in the old Glass House. My son had a chocolate canneloni. We had to try the peanut butter ice-cream with caramelized bacon though.
Interesting... but I ended up picking off the bacon, have to be honest!
Atul Kochhar was on board too and he is the NICEST bloke ever. And very funny. He should do a standup routine about spices. His talk was packed out and quite rightly so. Very very interesting, and a proper inspirational story he had to tell in his own modest way - adorable man.
And then, sadly, it was onto packing. But holidays must come to an end and we were missing our family and pets a bit.
As is family tradition, we had a proper sit-down breakfast in the restaurant on the last morning. It's available every day but we don't have breakfast simply because we have to cut some meals out! Plus we are never up. The boat lulls you to sleep like a giant gently rocking cradle. I sleep like a baby on a cruise.
Sitting on a bus with the last look at the ship is a sad sight, however much we are looking forward to seeing the folks back home. This one was a bit teary for me because the likelihood is that I won't be sitting on the bus again with my boys (who were feasting on being back in the land of the internet again). But it's a new phase. Next time I'll be with the OH. I just hope that next time is sooner rather than later...