Fran Faulkner home after three-month world cruise
This is the final installment of the chronical of a three-month trip of a lifetime embarked upon by New Kingston resident Fran Faulkner.
After our wonderful tour of Athens, Greece, we sailed through the Ionian Sea and the Strait of Messina. Our ship took us close to the volcano island of Stromboli, which had recently erupted, and we took several photos. We then docked at Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, Italy. We awakened early the next morning (the first day of April) to prepare for our bus tour. The QM2 was docked near the cruise ship Oostradam (Holland America Lines) and several other large oceangoing vessels. After breakfast we met with our tour group and went ashore to board the bus. The drive to Rome took over an hour, and we passed vineyards, hayfields, and pastures with grazing sheep. When we arrived at Rome, we drove on to Vatican City where the bus parked in an underground garage. We followed our guide to St. Peter’s Square and mingled with a crowd of people waiting to hear the Pope give his message. He came outside onto a porch and greeted everyone. Although we were standing quite far away, we could see and hear him on the very large movie screens attached to buildings in the square. We later heard that April 1 is the first day that the Pope gives his address outdoors, so our timing was quite good! We then returned to the bus for the tour through Rome. Unfortunately, it began to rain so it was difficult to take good photos of the important buildings and sites in the city. However, we did see all seven hills of Rome! Back on board the QM2 we ate a late lunch and enjoyed R & R for the remainder of the afternoon.
The next day the QM2 anchored at Cannes, France, and we took a tender (lifeboat) ashore to meet our tour group. The skies were overcast and there was a threat of rain, but the weather didn’t dampen our excursion. We took a winding road up to the village of Gourdon, which lies astride a rock spur over 1,600 feet above the Loup River. The waterfalls along the way were spectacular! In the village, traditional homes have been lovingly restored and converted into boutiques and workshops producing olive woodcarvings, glassware, pottery, distilled lavender, and honey. Although it rained a bit, we enjoyed mostly clear weather throughout the shore excursion.
On April 3 the ship docked at Barcelona, Spain. We joined our tour group after breakfast and boarded the bus for a drive into the city. We drove up to the hill overlooking Barcelona and enjoyed the panoramic view. On the return trip we passed the Olympic Village and Stadium and continued into the city. The first stop was to visit the 600-year-old Catalan Gothic Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. This structure had been built on the site of an earlier Roman Temple dedicated to Hercules. As we strolled back through the Cathedral, we were quite surprised to enter into an open garden area where geese were swimming in a pond!
We then continued our bus trip to the main square of Barcelona where we visited the Spanish Village built for the 1929 Universal Exposition. We enjoyed free time here to stroll around, shop at the boutiques, and take photos. The city’s most unique attraction (and our final photo stop) is the Church of La Sagrada Familia, which was begun in 1884 and is still unfinished! Each generation has added something to the profuse decoration of the exterior…a simply amazing sight! We then returned to the QM2 in time to watch the ship sail away toward the Strait of Gibraltar. The next three days will be spent at sea as we sail toward our next port at Cherbourg, France. The ship was originally scheduled to make port at Le Havre, but the local dockworkers were on strike, which made it necessary for the QM2 to sail to another port.
We received a dinner invitation to join the Captain at the Captain’s Table in the Britannia Dining Room the following evening. When we had taken a tour of the galley earlier in the voyage, this table had been pointed out to us. At that time we never thought that we would be invited to dine with the Captain!
We later sailed into the Strait of Gibraltar and expected to pass by the Rock of Gibraltar about 5:30 p.m. Although it was somewhat overcast, we were able to take photos from our balcony, and we then went to the port side of the ship to see the two U.S. destroyers that were keeping a watchful eye.
Our dinner at Captain Nick Bates’ table was fantastic! It was a table for 10 (Sandy was seated next to the Captain on his right side, and I was seated on his left). We both had an opportunity to visit with him, and were able to ask questions about his position. We learned quite a lot about the responsibilities that go with being a Captain! After dessert, the ship’s photographer took a photo of the diners at the Captain’s table, and Sandy and I each received a copy the following day!
After two days at sea, we docked at Cherbourg, France, and readied ourselves for a scenic tour of the Saire Valley. After boarding the bus, we drove along a country road to the pretty village of ‘Le Vast’ and then on to Le Pernelle, where we stopped to see the fantastic view overlooking the East Coast of the peninsula. Utah Beach, on the Normandy Coast, could be seen in the distance. We went to Saint Vaast La Hougue to view the major oyster farming centre, fishing port, and popular marina. Our final destination was at Barfleur to take a guided walking tour of the historic little harbor. From there we could gaze up at the well-known Gatteville lighthouse, which is one of the highest in France. Then we drove along the coast to return to Cherbourg and the QM2. We very much enjoyed seeing the charming stone and stucco buildings in the French villages!
On Wednesday, April 8, we docked at Southampton. We left the ship and went to meet with Brian and Barbara Goldswain, the British couple with whom we had shared a dinner table on the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 2007. We recognized each other immediately and went with them to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was at Westminster Abbey where we took photos, then we drove out into the country to see other interesting buildings. We eventually arrived at Stone Henge, where we parked and took many photos through the fence (because our time was limited, we couldn’t take the tour). After stopping at a pub for coffee, we drove past the lovely countryside showing many signs of spring: green fields, flowering shrubs, and pastures with grazing sheep and cattle. On April 14 we will arrived at New York City after enjoying an incredible around the world voyage!