It was the summer of 2010. My sister invited me on a visit to her workplace once more. Surely that would not be worth mentioning, if my sister wasn't working for Cunard and her workplace wouldn't be the Queen Victoria. For me this effectively translates to “Free Cruise”.
I had the pleasure before. In 2008 I travelled the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. This time it would be the Baltic Sea. From Southampton we would go to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, St. Petersburg, Helsinki, Oslo, Kristiansand and back to Southampton.
Now sadly the great age of the vacation slide show has come to an end. I can't come to your homes, put up a slide projector and let my monotone voice recount overly detailed stories of non-interest while you fade into unconsciousness. Even if I could, I'd probably be to lazy to visit you all. Thankfully the technologies of today offer convenient alternatives. I will therefore strive to relive the excitement of such an evening through a pointless travelogue stretching over ten to fifteen ill-written blog posts. And yes, I really mean it.
My voyage began on the 1st August 2010. It was a Sunday, but that doesn't matter. While the cruise itself started in Southampton I won't spare you the details of how I arrived there.
Flying to London
I had to be on the ship by 4 p.m. Twelve hours earlier, after a ridiculously short amount of sleep, I woke up in Berlin. My parents escorted me to the airport and at half past seven I was on my way to Gatwick. Half past seven Central European Summer Time that is. Just one hour later I arrived in London, at half past seven British Summer Time.
That was easy. Now all I needed to do is get to the coast. Because British trains are said to be notoriously unreliable, my sister advised me take the National Express Bus. I booked the tickets in advance. Line 747 would take me to Heathrow. There I would have 40 minutes to get the 203 to Southampton. So much for the plan.
From London to Southampton by Bus
In Gatwick I had more than enough time to catch the bus. Almost three hours. So much time indeed that I could see the two earlier buses of the same line coming and going. Both perfectly on time. Yet my bus went with a different approach. It wasn't there on time and when it finally showed up, the bus driver didn't bother to check the new passengers' tickets and let them get on. Instead he was just sitting on his seat with the passengers standing outside waiting. It took quite a while until he changed his mind. But then, just a I sat down inside, we learned that his shift is now over and that his replacement is missing. The bus was cancelled and my estimated transition time at Heathrow was already down to 20 minutes.
So the passengers were reloaded onto two other buses from other lines that also happened to head to Heathrow. When I finally left Stansted my comfortable 40 minutes time window had shrunk to mere 10 minutes. I therefore had a hard time finding joy in the almost continuous traffic jam we were graced to take part in on our way from Gatwick to Heathrow.
Owing to what I can only explain as an inconsistency in space-time, we still made it in time. I had about one minute left to change but that wasn't too hard as the next bus parked right in front of us.
At this point I should mention that the driver that got me to Heathrow tried very hard not to hide his disdain of all those passengers crowding his bus. Upon leaving Gatwick he made it perfectly clear that there is only one way we all can have an agreeable time during the ride: no loud talking and no loud noises. Otherwise he may behead one or two passengers. In Heathrow I almost made the inexcusable error of asking him if he could help getting the luggage out of the boot. Luckily an elderly couple in front of me made that error first and thusly became the target of a storm of outrage by the driver. Leaving this unfavourable example of English hospitality behind, the next bus ride proved to be much more enjoyable.
On the Ship
One hour and 45 minutes later I arrived in Southampton. Back in 2009 when my father was on a similar voyage, he took a taxi from the bus station to the ship. But as England was just a transit country, I didn't have the inclination to change any Euro in Pound. So I decided to walk. It was a sunny day and no 30 minutes later I was there, welcomed by my sister at the cruise terminal.
Before I could go on board some paperwork was required. A procedure slightly prolonged by the fact that my sister knows each and every crew member and everyone knows her. In consequence I got introduced to heaps of new people whose names escaped me mere seconds later. Most of them in turn acknowledged that I look just like my sister.
I also learned that I wouldn't get a cabin this time. Instead I would have to sleep in a bunk bed in my sister's cabin. No problem of course and probably my own fault because I chose a cruise during British holidays and there were now guest cabins left, at least for now.
I couldn't be bothered anyway. I made it to the ship in time and with all my luggage. After a shower I was off to the Lido for my first meal since Berlin. I could also finally take my new camera to use.
Passenger Drill and Sail-Away
The leisure time was soon interrupted by a series of announcements from the bridge that were meant to build up anticipation for the upcoming passenger drill. All passengers were asked to go to their cabins, get their life vests and head to their meeting points upon hearing the signal at 4 p.m. Having neither cabin, nor life vest, nor meeting point I was slightly unsure about how to react.
After consultations with my sister I decided to experience the spectacle in the Royal Court Theatre. The other meeting point would have been the Britannia restaurant but I've already seen the drill from that perspective in 2008.
I showed up at the theatre as the only one without life vest, giving me even more time to rejoice in my fellow passengers' approaches at putting on theirs. While sitting there I noticed certain movements below my feet. The sail-away has started just as all passengers were inside the ships bowel getting safety instructions. So while I missed the sail-away, I sure wasn't the only one. Thankfully there's not much to miss while sailing away from Southampton.
During the evening and the night we sailed through the Channel where I could get an impression of the heavy traffic on this water way. There were ships all over the horizon when the sun set.
The next day would be a sea day, during which we'd cross the Nordic Sea. The first sea day of a voyage brings two rather special events. At the evening there is the Captain's cocktail party, requiring formal dress and giving each guest the opportunity to shake hands with the Captain (an offer which I usually decline). More importantly, around noon, there is a get-together for those travellers that fall under the broad definition of young adults. I happened to be one of them.