Cruising Episode One - Alexandria and Suez

Our first ever cruise, with Voyages of Discovery, on board the 'Voyager' with around 500 others.  We are sailing from Larnaca in Cyprus to Muscat, Oman, via the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.

'Voyager' at Larnaca

     This post won't be up to my usual standard - internet access on the high seas is very poor and  very slow.
     We've never been on a cruise before, and prefer independent travel, but this trip was offered by the company to replace a cancelled Black Sea Cruise, so we are giving it a go.
     This ship is small enough to give a proper feel of sailing on a voyage rather than being on a floating luxury hotel - not that I have ever been on a huge cruise ship, and am unlikely to try one.
     Our fellow passengers are 95 percent Brit with a few Americans, mostly like us - some older, some slightly younger, some haw-haw posh - sailed single-handed round the Horn of Africa m'dear, - some less so. By and large, Philosopher and I are not madly sociable in circumstances like this. The first night we ended up sitting next to two Americans at dinner who turned out to be Trump supporters, which was not encouraging. However, most people are perfectly pleasant and OK, if not potential soul-mates.
     The Captain is Polish, and the vast majority of the crew are Phillipino, apart from the young things in the Entertainments team. Apart from our daily Sea Stretch exercise session, and the odd lecture, we don't join in much.  It feels a bit too much like boarding school to me....
     Anyway, Larnaca is a nothing place and we scarcely saw it before setting sail for Alexandria, a city I've always wanted to visit.  

However, we had not appreciated quite how tight security would be - a cruise ship full of Brits is a precious and rare boost for the struggling Egyptian economy, and we have to be protected at all costs. We drove through Alexandria in a convoy guarded by armed police, with sirens blaring ahead of us.  Here's one of our escorts - black face covering, automatic weapon...

 The city looked fascinating, many beautiful buildings, all incredibly dilapidated, but with a rich street life that reminded us of India. Sad and skinny horses pulled carts and carriages. There were brightly decorated tuc-tucs, and decrepit trams. 
Horse welfare not a priority....
Alexandria street life


Our progress through the streets felt a bit like being royalty, with people waving and smiling, but also like being a prisoner.  Our guide was at desperate pains to tell us how safe Egypt is, and how we must pass on the message to people back in the UK.
     Sights-wise, we saw some catacombs which were OK, but far too crowded, then Pompey's Pillar which was nothing, then we got stuck in traffic on the Corniche and didn't really see much more, because it got dark... Philosopher and I just longed to be free to walk the streets.
     The ship went on to Port Said. Here, we only had a brief stop, security was even more rigorous, we were not allowed out of the port area at all. However, a group of locals came and danced on the quay-side.
Port Said - imprisoned

     We started off down the Suez Canal at 5am, and most of us were up on deck early to see the sights. I'd always imagined the canal as running through desert, with the skeletons of rusty tanks littering the banks.  In fact, the first half is quite built up. particularly the fertile west bank, which is still part of the Nile Valley. There were fishermen in little boats, and ferries dodging back and forth across the canal between the ships. The canal is also wider than I thought, but not wide enough to allow two ships to pass.We were the first in a convoy, with a Russian gun boat ahead of us, and a tug shadowing us in case we broke down. Again we felt quite special - our stately white ship gliding slowly along as people waved at us.
View with gunboat ahead
More built up than expected
Apparently these are pigeon lofts...
 
This is the 'Mubharak Peace Bridge', built in 2001 with Japanese aid. It is closed and unused....
Ferry
     We passed many soldiers. Some stood rigidly at attention as we passed but others broke ranks and ran to wave at the ship.

      Once we were past an open stretch of water in the middle of the canal called the Great Bitter Lake, the banks were much more like the sandy desert of my imagination. Here, the convoys going up and down the canal can pass each other, and a stretch has even been made 'dual carriageway'.
The Great Bitter Lake - our tug behind
More soldiers....
Start of the dual-carriageway section.
    
A lonely military outpost near the Suez end of the canal
      We saw a bit of wildlife - cormorants, and what could have been a fish eagle hovering above.
      As it took all day to navigate the canal, we did do other things - I even went to the ship's gym. It is not big, but it has a fantastic three-way view out of the stern - I was pounding away on the treadmill watching the canal spool away behind us.
      Talking of gyms and things, it seems almost impossible to avoid gaining weight on a cruise ship - there is so much food, most of which is delicious (Unlike boarding school, this bit). We get breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and late bites (supper). We have confined ourselves to fruit and cereal for breakfast, a salad lunch, and a decent dinner. Virtuous as all that sounds, even the salad lunch involves pudding....   I am gobsmacked about how much food some of these people can cram away - they eat (and drink) almost continuously.
      Another thing that gets to us is the competitive cruise talk - most others seem to have been on loads - South America with Swan Hellenic? Well, we were in Vietnam last year with yada yada, yes but we went to Antarctica on the wotsit with wotsit. Many have been on our ship before - not just for one cruise, but staying on board as it travels the world for anything up to six weeks. Do they have no lives back at home?
     When we arrived for a brief stop in Sharm-el-Sheik, it was sunny at first, but the sky gradually blackened, and soon we were in the middle of an enormous thunder storm, apparently the first for several years!
 



     The hailstones, not golf balls but certainly marbles, made a incredible racket hitting the metal of the ship, and there was a positively biblical mighty rushing wind.

     Poor Sharm was devastated by flash floods. As if the traders didn't have enough trouble. We went out for a 'walk' - or rather hopping from stone to stone, balancing on logs etc.  

    Then, of course, it poured with rain again and we got absolutely and completely soaked. However, we did better than some of our colleagues. The crew pulled the gangplank up for safety when it was very windy, some people were trapped outside and had to crawl under a petrol taker to shelter from the hail....
     I'll stop here for now because I'll be lucky to get this to publish. I've got floods in Petra, snorkelling in the Red Sea and the pirate fun still to write about, and we still have a week to go....

Feel free to comment!

Hastings Battleaxe welcomes comments from readers. I try to reply to every one. If I don't reply, the technology has let me down!

Most read posts this week

Hastings Battleaxe hits the Chelsea Flower Show.

Garden Centres and Nurseries near Hastings - some new ones

Hastings Battleaxe - A week in the life.....

Antiques, vintage shops and galleries in St Leonard's - a walk with Hastings Battleaxe

Hastings Old Town antique and junk shops

Why are Marks and Spencer clothes so awful?

Michelham Priory - a peaceful day out

Best Garden Centres and Plant Nurseries near Hastings

Tunbridge Wells day out and Fairlight Hall piano recital.

Best shops in Hastings and St Leonards