Monday, June 22, 2015

Life on the Saga Rose

Back in the year 2000, business for an Internet consultant was good. Knowing how much my mother loved boats and the sea, and how little of the world she had seen, we decided to buy the two of them a cruise.

In doing so, I lightly passed over the fact that my father was not good with rough water, and disregarded his social discomfort with having to cohabit with those he considered to be of higher social class - he correctly judged that the cruise we had selected would be populated by the retired officer class.

In the event his social fears were misplaced: their dining companions were pleasant. But then my mother had that terrible accident in Pompeii - and the worst storm for years hit the Bay of Biscay on the way home.

They secretly kept a diary: here are the highs and the lows (PDF here).


Fred and Beryl Seel’s Saga Rose Mediterranean Cruise

September 17th - October 2nd 2000

September 16th Saturday

Nigel arrived to fetch us mid-morning at our home [in Bristol]. After lunch we travelled to Maidenhead to spend the night at Clare and Nigel's home prior to joining the SS Saga Rose at Dover.

Day 1 Sunday

Clare and Nigel drove us to Dover and, after a lovely lunch in a hotel we boarded the ship. Our hand luggage was put through a scanner and we had to walk through another scanner. As Fred followed me through a bell sounded and he was called aside to empty his pockets. Having done so, he walked through again and the bell rang once again. This time he was "frisked” by the official standing there and he was then allowed through (I suspect they felt the truss he was wearing and realised he was no danger).

Day 2 Monday

Dull and dreary weather - drizzle and sea mist – we were warned to take care walking around the ship and to stay in cabin if feeling unwell. We sat on deck in the afternoon wrapped in heavy coats and in a sheltered corner. Super evening meal - cabaret show-time featuring Johnny Tudor, variety entertainer, old jokes and songs, impersonating Barry Manilow, Frankie Vaughan etc; corny!!! Ship was rocking madly throughout the night going through the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay; many passengers horizontal throughout day. Captain's Cocktail Party before dinner.

Day 3 Tuesday

Arrived at La Corunna, Northern Spain 8 a.m. We walked around the town in the morning, weather miserable, plastic macs and umbrellas. The temperature was 51 degrees F. and a transport strike was in progress. We were back on board at noon for a super four course lunch, with waiters to satisfy our every whim. Storms worsened p.m. after we left La Corunna and there were many empty chairs at dinner. We had taken some Stugeron anti seasickness tablets, but I felt very queasy after dinner. Had an early night.

Day 4 Wednesday

Another night of pitching and tossing, but the day dawned and we saw SUNSHINE for the first time. Attempting to wash in a still rocking bathroom, the ship lurched and I fell backwards into the empty bath, banging my head and grazing my ankles on the sink surround. Fred pulled me out and I went back to bed nursing a giant headache. By 10 a.m. brilliant sunshine; we make our way to the sundeck for a couple of hours —this is more like it!!!

Day 5 Thursday

Weather-wise things are improving; we now walk instead of stagger around the ship. Gibraltar today, we left the ship at 8.30 a.m. and were taken by taxi, first to the Spanish-Gibraltar frontier and then up to the Rock to visit St. Michael's Caves. The journey was short, through narrow streets, the buildings looking rather down-market, but it was a fascinating experience. We went into the caves, full of stalactites and stalagmites, we took several photographs. We saw the Barbary apes - more photographs. Many other interesting buildings and views were pointed out to us on our journey. We were dropped off in the town where Fred bought some booze - very cheap. We arrived back at the ship for lunch. We spent the afternoon on the sundeck. Dinner tonight was at 7 pm followed by dancing and cabaret as usual.

Day 6 Friday

Day at sea, beautiful weather, spent the morning on the sundeck. After lunch we went to a ballroom dancing class-the Cha-Cha-Cha, great fun. After dinner we watched the cabaret.

Day 7 Saturday

Arrived at Cagliari, Sardinia and spent the morning on deck – the sun very hot. After lunch we went ashore and boarded a coach to see the sights of Sardinia, a lovely little island in the Med. It was very dusty and everything was brown, the guide told us there had been no rain for months and water was severely rationed. We saw bananas growing but they were very sad and very small. We were taken to Poetto, with lovely beaches of white sand and the beach a deep turquoise. We then arrived at a Sardinian house and entered it through a gateway strewn with aromatic herbs which gave off a beautiful scent as we passed through. We entered into a large courtyard with chairs placed around it, in front of bushes of lovely flowers which gave some protection from the sun.

We were then entertained by local singers and dancers in traditional costume (very colourful), meanwhile we were each given a wine glass which the dancers filled with wine - again and again and again - also bringing around delicious cookies. This went on and on—the ship was due to sail at 5 pm and it was nearing 4.15 pm. We arrived back at the ship at 4.55 pm facing a worried Captain and crew. The tugs and pilot boat's crew were kicking up their heels - we didn't care - we had had a wonderful trip and the wine and cookies were fine.

Day 8 Sunday

Arrived at Civitavecchia at 7.30 a.m. and left for a tour of Rome and a visit to St. Peter's Basilica at 8.30 am, stopping just outside Rome at a Service station for toilets and to be issued with our packed lunch. After a whirlwind tour of Rome, seeing the Coliseum and many superb statues and buildings, we arrived at St. Peter's Square at approximately midday and had an hour to browse around and eat our packed lunch. We bought small gifts for Joyce and Maisie.

We joined a long queue to enter St. Peter's Basilica at 1 pm and entered through the Holy Door; this door is only opened every 25 years, On Christmas Eve, the Pope, according to a special ritual, makes a solemn procession to this door and after a triple genuflection and three strokes of a hammer, the wall barring the door is removed and the Pope is the first to cross the threshold and enter the Basilica. At the end of the Holy Year the door is re-closed with a solemn ceremony and the wall is re-built.

People wearing unsuitable clothing, e.g. shorts or sleeveless blouses are not allowed entry into the Basilica and several were turned away. It was very crowded with what appeared to be dozens and dozens of different guided tours, each tour leader carrying an identifying rod with a symbol on top as a focal point, ours was a minute Pinocchio model which in the gloom of St. Peters was quickly lost to sight if you glanced away. This made close examination of the wonderful exhibits, statues and paintings very difficult, but with so many visitors milling around it would have been almost impossible to organise and please everyone.

The tour lasted approx. one hour and we then made our way back to the tour bus, very hot and somewhat tired but extremely pleased at having had this opportunity to visit this wonderful building, so steeped in religious history. The journey back to the ship was uneventful and we arrived at about 3.45 pm in time for dinner at 7 pm.

Monday Day 9

Arrived at Sorrento at 8 am and went ashore by ship's tender as there is only a small harbour and the ship had to anchor in the bay. We joined the tour bus at approx. 10 am and after driving through the steep, narrow and very squalid streets we left Sorrento and continued on to Pompeii. The party was split into two groups of approx. 19 to each group, each with a local guide but only one Saga Rep to cover both groups, her name was Elaine.

After a very interesting tour of this ancient city, using the Red Tour which includes the most interesting relics and ruins, amongst which were the baths, shops, the forum and many more too numerous to mention, we eventually left the ruins at approx. 3.30 pm.

[Ed. note: at this point my father, Fred, takes over the writing]

The coach was parked about 500 yards away so after a short wait to re-unite with the other party we started off in crocodile formation to the coach-park along the very dusty and uneven pavements. Because of the close crocodile formation, Beb did not see a steel ring embedded in the pavement that is used to surround trees. In this case the tree had been removed but not the ring which now surrounded a hole about 10 inches deep. Catching her left foot against the ring Beb was thrown forward, her right foot going down into the hole and her face violently hitting the pavement, breaking her nose, injuring her jaw and chin, and damaging the tendons of the right leg. There was considerable bleeding from her nose and she was in pain from her right leg. I knelt by her and treated the injuries with help from the other tour members using tissues and wet-wipes. There was no sign of the Saga Rep and the local guide wasn't interested, only urging us to re-join the coach quickly, no offer to drive the coach to us.

Beb had to be assisted by myself to the coach-park. Once on the coach and leaving the city I called the Saga Rose Rep and asked her if she was aware of Beb's injuries and she said she had heard something about it. I brought her to Beb and she was quite shocked. I insisted she use her mobile phone and contact the Ship's Officer on the quay for assistance. This she did and we were met at Sorrento main square and transferred to a taxi which drove quickly to the landing stage where a Ship's Nurse was waiting.

As soon as the tender arrived Beb was transferred aboard with other passengers and it sped out to the ship where she was transferred on board first with the help of two burly crew members. A wheelchair was waiting on deck and we were taken straight to the sick-bay where the Ship's Doctor and another Nurse were waiting. After an examination and being cleaned up they applied five steri-strips to a very deep wound at the bridge of her nose but only gave us a cold pack and towel to take back to our cabin to apply to her right leg, which by now was non-weight bearing. The Nurse also administered an anti-tetanus booster.

Beb saw the Doctor again at 9.30 am the next day (Tuesday) when he was non-committal whether the nose was broken but said there wasn't any treatment for that anyway. He re-examined the right leg when Beb complained she could not support her weight upon it and diagnosed possible ligament and tendon damage, a tubular grip bandage was applied by the Nurse and a walking stick loaned. He advised Beb to see him Sunday morning and he would decide if the steri-strips should be removed. We received the Bill for this service this morning (Tuesday) for £110.95. I don't know if he will charge for removing the steri-strips next Sunday if needed.

Tuesday Day 10 at sea

The above entry accounts for this morning’s events. We had yesterday evening’s and today’s meals delivered by Room Service as Beb has problems walking but she feels much better now and we hope to resume normal cruising and meals in the restaurant tomorrow (Wednesday). I have cancelled the tour to Cadiz as she will not be well enough for that, but we may walk into town as we dock within the city.

Wednesday Day 11 at sea

Lazy day sunbathing on the stern sundeck, we had breakfast at Lido Café and stayed put until 12.20 pm. We had lunch in the restaurant for the first time since Beb's accident. Filipino waiters, especially Jonathan, made a big fuss of her. We spent another hour or so on deck, this time on the starboard side in shade; it was about 75 degrees F. in the sun.

Went back to the cabin for a while and then to the ballroom where a "Chocolate Afternoon Tea" was held at 4.15 pm. Visited gift shop and bought a couple of presents. After Dinner again visited the gift shops to buy deck shoes for Beb as hers were in a dangerous state. Beb still very groggy so we retired to the cabin again at 9.20 pm and prepared for bed.

During the day I visited the Purser to sort out the payment system and check ETA for Dover. Passengers using own transport or being collected by private transport will disembark at 8 am next Monday morning October 2nd. Phoned Clare and Nigel with information and they will pick us up at Dover as arranged.

[Ed. note: at this point my mother, Beryl (Beb), resumes writing]

Thursday Day 12

Arrived late at Cadiz, we had to dock at a different berth because another ship arrived just before us and had taken our place. As we had cancelled our tour on the Doctor's advice it made no difference to our plans which were to take a leisurely stroll around the shops near the harbour and maybe do some last minute shopping. I'm glad we did because we found some lovely Spanish dolls to give to Jenny and Sarah, also a model Bull for Christopher. It was a nice morning, nippy to start with but getting hotter as the sun came up. I am walking easier now and the swelling on my face is gradually disappearing. We arrived back on the ship for lunch, after which I went off to the Hair Salon to have a wash and blow dry, (£15 - daylight robbery). At 4.15 we went off for our usual afternoon tea, gooey cakes and scones with jam and cream, as much as you can eat.

Dinner at 7 pm after which we will go off to the ballroom to watch flamenco dancing (dancing for me is impossible with my damaged leg; I am still using a walking stick).We sail at 11 pm - the last lap of our Journey. Today’s weather forecast is for rough weather ahead, we are quite worried about what awaits us in the Bay of Biscay. Before we retire, an announcement from the Captain warns us that there are heavy swells ahead and advises us that all breakables, e.g. bottles of booze, should be placed on the floor. Also, we were warned to be careful moving around the ship: all is doom and gloom.

Friday Day 13

The ship rocked all night, but we had taken our Stugeron so didn't suffer too much. Wow!!! Things got a lot worse as the day progressed, impossible to walk properly. I am still using a stick and am hoping the Doctor won't need it back for his ever growing list of patients. Stayed in cabin all afternoon, more announcements from the Bridge warning of bad weather conditions and need for caution moving around the decks. After Dinner went back to cabin and found drawers and various commodities lying on the floor, Thought, Gosh! We’ve been burgled! .. but it was the heavy rolling of the ship.

Saturday Day 14

What a night! We are still off the coast of Portugal. The 9 o'clock announcement from the Bridge tells us that yesterday’s waves were 5 metres high and that it would be the same today. We didn't know whether we were on our head or heels while lying in bed, I've never experienced anything like it before. Fred went down to breakfast but I let the lovely Filipino waiter bring me tea and croissants to the cabin.

It's now 11.15 am, we have been told we reach the Bay of Biscay about noon and that one of the restaurants would be closed and some of the activities would be cancelled because of the weather. Oh well, let’s sit back and see what the afternoon brings.

Afternoon: weather worsening, waves now 6 metres and the ship rolling and pitching violently, I guess we are in for another rough night.

Sunday Day 15

We awoke to a calmer sea, much easier to walk about. More people having breakfast in the restaurant but at 9 am the message came through from the Bridge that we were heading for force 8 winds which I think are gale force. Groans all over the tea and toast, this will be the worse conditions yet. Apparently all these lows are coming down the English Channel.

We started packing straight after breakfast - where did all this stuff come from? At 11.15 everyone has to attend a disembarkation meeting so that all will go smoothly tomorrow. Breakfast is at 6.15 am tomorrow, we are number 2 so expect to leave the ship early. The last group leaves at about 10.15 am while the ship departs for its next cruise at 5 pm.

We go for lunch at 12.45 pm then more packing. Afternoon tea at 4.15 pm then to the ship's sick-bay to return the walking stick and enquire about further treatment when reaching home. The nurse advised me to hang on to the stick until tomorrow morning because of the approaching storms.

Just finished packing at 5.45 p.m. must remember to put our watches back one hour before going to bed. Going back to Saturday evening, I almost forgot to mention the Captain's Disembarkation Cocktail Party. It was held then because all our glad rags would be packed on Sunday. The cocktail party started at 6.15 pm with photographs taken - I dodged that, not looking my best with stitches decorating my nose. Jean Slater did not come to the party, she wasn't feeling too well.

It was a very good dinner, very lively and lots of fun, ending with a Baked Alaska Parade with all the waiters descending the staircase at the end of the restaurant holding aloft their trays with the Baked Alaskas decorated with sparklers down through the tables with the lights turned low, a very impressive sight. The evening closed with all the passengers standing to sing Auld Lang Syne.

Monday Day 16

Early rising with breakfast scheduled for 6.15 am. We arrived in the restaurant at 6.30 to see some strange faces, Susan and I suspect that these people spent most of the voyage in their cabins. We were in group 2 so were due to leave the ship a little after 8 am. As we were disembarking Nigel called us on his mobile phone to say he was waiting outside so, with a porter pushing our suitcases on a trolley, we met up with him outside the gate. With great relief we settled down in his car and he drove us to his home at Maidenhead. We were greeted by Clare with a very welcome cup of tea, and then Nigel carried on with his work and Clare drove us back to Bristol.

Home Again

It was a lovely holiday and I enjoyed every moment of it - except of course my accident at Pompeii, but even that had its bright side, I was a celebrity and the loving care I had from so many people was something I shall always remember, when the bruises and scars hopefully disappear.

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