SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK

25th September 2022

Another long drive today. We headed to Three Rivers where we had booked a motel so we could explore Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, which was next door. When I say next door it was at least a 2 hour drive depending on how often you stopped to admire the view!

The road up to the top of Sequoia was extremely windy (as in winding, not blowing!) and demanded a lot of concentration. Thankfully there were lots of lay-bys so I could stop and admire the views.

We were very lucky, because as I slowly drove around one of the many hairpin bends………a small bear cub wandered out in front of us and crossed the road. Sadly it was too quick for us to take a photo and I’m sure mother bear wasn’t too far away either!

This was part of the old road and you can still see the marks on the top where motorhomes and lorries must have got stuck!

A giant sequoia……….man these trees are big!

So are the fir cones, you wouldn’t want one of these falling on your head!

I’m not sure if the fashion of wearing one sock up and one down has hit the UK yet but it’s all the rage in the US!

Visitors to Sequoia and Kings Canyon can drive through Sequoia Park’s fallen “Tunnel Log” located along the Crescent Meadow Road in Giant Forest.

The fallen Tunnel Log of Sequoia National Park came into being after an unnamed giant sequoia fell across the Crescent Meadow Road in late 1937 as a result of “natural causes.” The following summer, a tunnel was cut through the fallen log as a visitor attraction. When it fell, the tree stood 275 feet high (83.8 meters) and was 21 feet in diameter at the base (6.4 meters). The tree’s age when it fell has not been determined, but probably exceeded 2,000 years.

After driving through the tunnel log we made our way to the General Sherman tree which is the world’s largest tree by volume. The world’s tallest tree is also in California, in the Redwood National Park, but its exact location is a closely-guarded secret to try and protect it! The name of this tree is Hyperion which was the name of the concert pianist who was there to entertain us later on during the cruise!

And so the sun sets on another great day, great views again, but very tricky to drive down the mountain in the dark!

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK.

23rd September 2022

Another long drive today, from Monterey to Yosemite National Park. We had pre-booked the Wawona hotel which was actually in the park and not too far from the valley floor.

The drive to get there was not the most scenic, and there was endless miles of driving along flat roads passing orange groves and other kinds of farming, or as in this photo lots of nothing!

There was the occasional Walmart (a small supermarket with which Jane found a fascination!) where we would often stop to stretch our legs and go to the loo.

As we got closer we to the park the landscape changed for the better and the road started to climb.

This photo shows the after mass of some of the devastation caused by the recent forest fires. Over the next few days we were able to see many more such incidents………

We also got to see the regrowth as the circle of life restarted its journey.

Jane wasn’t feeling too good when this picture was taken, she was only a shadow of her normal self!

This was the part of the trip when you were excited to drive around every bend in the road, as with each turn there was a magnificent vista to great us!

After a long days’ drive we eventually arrived at the Wawona Hotel. One of California’s original mountain resort hotels, this Victorian-era Wawona Hotel was originally established in 1856.

Ayla was in charge of reception on our arrival. We said we had booked a room for three nights and our name was Smith, she looked down at her computer pressed a few more keys then starting looking concerned “are you sure you have the made a reservation? I can’t see your names and we are full for the next three nights”!

I immediately went into panic mode as there wasn’t another hotel for 50 miles, and I asked Jane to get out the paperwork to prove that I had indeed made the booking several months beforehand.

It was then that Ayla apologised and started laughing. Kev had asked her to play a trick on us to see what kind of reaction we had! She did a great job and said she was worried that I might not see the funny side but as I have often played similar tricks on Kev, of course I did!

I was up early the next morning and caught a beautiful sunrise…………

As we were already in the park, we had decided to make an early start to the valley floor and get a head-start before the rest of the visitors descended on the park.

And, of course, stopping to take in the beauty and a few photos along the way!

Once we had parked the car we started our first hike of the day. It wasn’t a long walk, a 2 mile loop up to mirror lake, however when we got there the lake was empty due to recent dry weather and so we missed out on the reflection effect which is meant to be stunning……oh well!

Our next hike was to a bridge over a waterfall. It didn’t look too far on the map, only about 1.5 miles, so we set off. I hadn’t taken in to consideration the steepness of the trail and also that it was later in the day and the sun was at its height!

It was really hard work and although the pathway was tarmacked we still had to make quite a few stops to catch our breath and take a gulp of water. (incidentally if you want a glass of water in the US you have to ask for a glass of wadder or they won’t understand you!)

All the hard work paid off, there wasn’t much water falling but the view from the top was great!

When we got back to the bottom of the valley we saw a crowd of people and heard a gun shot. Being curious and without thinking we walked towards the gathering group and the sound of the shot. We asked the ranger what was going on and he informed us that a family of bears had come down the mountain in search of food for their winters’ hibernation.

The gunshot sound was caused by the firing of a high powered compressed gun to frighten the bears and prevent them from coming any closer!

We managed to get a few photos between the two of us, even if the bears didn’t really want to pose for us, and even though it would have been a classic shot to get a picture of Jane with a real “bear behind”!

Walking back to pick up the car I heard a rustle in the bushes on the other side of the road and I looked over to see this stag break cover and run over to a wooded area and disappear .

We were certainly very lucky with the weather and had a cloudless sky all day.

As we drove back to the hotel the sun was setting and the park was transformed again, the mountains gradually beginning to turn an orangey-red colour.

And with the sun finally disappearing behind the distant mountains the whole sky began to change colour!

The next day we had a slightly shorter drive to the nearby Mariposa Grove.

Mariposa Grove is a sequoia grove located near Wawona, in the southernmost part of Yosemite National Park. It is the largest grove of giant sequoias in the park, with several hundred mature examples of the tree. Two of its trees are among the 30 largest giant sequoias in the world.

Again we were lucky with the weather and got to see the striking contrasts in colour between the blue skies the green foliage and the orange bark of the trees!

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California Road Trip

19th September

On Monday we watched the Queen’s funeral on our iPads while we were waiting for our delayed flight to Los Angeles. It is hard to believe that this lady who was the figurehead of our country for all my life is no longer with us. It’s a sad way to start our holiday but also I was proud to see how the British all come together at times like these and at how the pageantry of the occasion was beautifully orchestrated.

We were lucky to be able to get away with only a minor delay on this sad day as some flights had been cancelled altogether. 

The flight was uneventful and I was glad we got the emergency exits and the extra legroom that goes with it!

Even the great selection of movies couldn’t keep Jane awake!

Nearly there!

We arrived very tired at a slightly rundown hotel in a fairly seedy area of LA. Jane had forgotten her foundation so we asked the receptionist if we could walk to a local chemist and buy some….…….she said no one in LA walks, especially at this time of night, so the shuttle bus driver took us to a local CRV store and we stocked up on a few other things for the start of the road trip the next day.

20th September

Tuesday  morning we had an early start  so we could pick up the hire car.   We both found the receptionist very challenging, she was not particularly helpful in trying to explain to us the ins and outs of the additional insurance that we were expected to pay, and why we had to pay it, as we were both sure that we had purchased the all singing and dancing cover back in the UK. 

I coped unexpectedly well with LA traffic, mainly thanks to the Apple maps guidance. I had been dreading the drive out of LA after several bad experiences on previous holidays, but having a Satnav on my phone made it easy and worry-free!

 We had a pleasant drive to Pismo beach and Kevin had done lots of research and found us a nice motel with stunning views.

The only downside was the terrible smell which was due to the thousands of pelicans that were making their home on the cliffs behind the hotel!

We took a stroll along the beach towards the pier and found a spot to drink a couple of frozen Strawberry daiquiris, while watching the sunset.

They cost an eye watering $35 for the two, just our luck to be in the US when the £ was at its lowest against the $ for 35 years!

At the end of a busy day we caught up with Kev and Val and sat by the fire pit putting the world to rights and watching the waves breaking on the beach.

21st September

The next morning we continued our drive up Highway 1. Our first photo opportunity was at the seal sanctuary at San Simeon. Although the seals look like they are asleep I can assure you that they were wide awake and making a hell of a racket!

Highway 1 is a lovely road to drive, it’s a scenic byway rather than a busy freeway and most of the traffic is holidaymakers out for a leisurely cruise and taking in the views.

An hour or so later we passed a car park with a crowd of people looking out to sea, so we pulled over to join them………..

What they had spotted was a whale, it seemed to be putting on a show for the crowd. What a great sight!

We were certainly very lucky with the weather, I have driven this route before and on that occasion there had been a bit of fog obscuring the view.

I took this photo at a restaurant where we stopped for a coffee………I just liked it so here it is!

As the day was coming to an end we were close to 17 Mile Drive between Carmel and Monterey, and I wanted to get a picture of the 18th green at the Pebble Beach golf course. This is one of the most famous courses in the world and has been home to the American Open on many occasions. I would love to play here but it’s way too expensive for me!

This is the Lone Cypress, a Californian icon and one of the world’s most photographed trees. It was looking great as the sun began to set……

…………as was Jane (I bet she edits this out!)

Kev had found us another good-value motel for the night. We wondered why it was so cheap and then we looked next door!

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Oradour-sur-Glane

26th May 2022

My posts on this blog are generally very lighthearted as I always try to look on the funny side of life, and always try to have a laugh whenever I can.

However whilst travelling in France this year I saw a road sign to Oradour-Sur-Glane, a name I had heard of from a documentary on television and so I decided to pay a visit.

The photos that you see are those that I took on my visit but the words are copied from the Oradour.info website as I didn’t want to make any mistakes with something as serious as this. It makes for some very grim reading.

10th June 1944

Towards the end of the Second World War, in a peaceful part of Vichy, France, there took place the war crime of the particularly horrible murder of 642 men, women and children. (There is the possibility that the true death toll could be higher than this figure, say 643, or 644, due to the likelihood of some very young babies not being included in the original total).

On the 10th of June 1944, a group of soldiers from the Der Führer regiment of the 2nd SS-Panzer Division, Das Reich, entered and then surrounded the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, near to the city of Limoges in the Haute Vienne Department of France. 

At first, they told the Mayor, Jean Desourteaux, that there was to be an identity check and that everyone must assemble on the Champ de Foire (fairground) whilst this took place. After rounding up all the inhabitants that they could find, the SS then changed their story from that of an identity check, to one of searching for hidden arms, explosives and prohibited merchandise. The soldiers then said that whilst they searched for the arms, the women and children must wait in the church and the men in nearby barns.

The women and children were marched off to the church, the children being encouraged by the soldiers to sing as they went. After they had left, the men were divided into six groups and led off to different barns in the village under armed guard. When the people were all safely shut away the SS began to kill them all.

A large gas bomb, seemingly made out of smoke-screen grenades and probably intended to asphyxiate the occupants, was placed in the church, but it did not work properly when it went off and so the SS had to use machine guns and hand grenades to disable and kill the women and children. After they had subdued all the occupants of the church, the soldiers piled wood on the bodies, many of whom were still alive, and set it on fire.

Only one person managed to escape alive from the church and that was Madame Rouffanche. She saw her younger daughter who was sitting next to her killed by a bullet as they attempted to find shelter in the vestry. Madame Rouffanche then ran to the altar end of the church where she found a stepladder used to light the candles. Placing the ladder behind the altar she climbed up and threw herself through a window and out onto the ground some 10 feet below. As she picked herself up, a woman holding her baby tried to follow, but they were seen by the soldiers and both woman and child were killed. In spite of being shot and wounded five times, Madame Rouffanche escaped round the back of the church and dug herself into the earth between some rows of peas, where she remained hidden until late the next day.

 At the same time that the gas bomb exploded in the church, the SS fired their machine guns into the men crowded in the barns. They deliberately fired low, so that many of the men were badly wounded but not killed. The soldiers then piled wood and straw on the bodies and set it alight, many of the men thus burned to death, unable to move because of their injuries. Six men did manage to escape from Madame Laudy’s barn, but one of them was seen and shot dead, the other 5, all wounded, got away under cover of darkness.

 Whilst these killings were taking place, the soldiers searched the village for any people who had evaded the initial roundup and killed them where they found them. One old invalid man was burned to death in his bed and a baby was baked to death in the local boulangerie’s ovens, other people were killed and their bodies thrown down a well. People who attempted to enter the village to see what was going on, were shot dead. A local tram which arrived during the killings was emptied of passengers, who after several terrifying minutes were let go in peace.

After killing all the villagers that they could find, the soldiers set the whole village on fire and early the next day, laden with booty stolen from the houses, they left.

The soldiers then journeyed on up through France to Normandy and joined the rest of the German army in attempting to throw the allied invasion back into the sea. Many of them, including Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann, who had led the attack on Oradour-sur-Glane, were killed in the Normandy battles

What has fascinated people ever since the 10th of June 1944, is why did the SS act as they did? Why did they turn up at Oradour that day and without mentioning anything to the inhabitants, kill them all? That a few people survived the attack was not due to any lack of zeal on the part of the SS, but why did they do it?

There had never been any obvious Resistance activity in the village, the Germans had never been attacked by the inhabitants and after the killings were over the SS left without saying why they had done it to anyone at all. If the attack had been a reprisal for some violence towards the German occupying forces, it would be normal for the Germans to say (loudly) to all the local population, ‘that’s what you get when you help the Resistance, let that be a lesson to you all!’. But they did not, they carried out the operation and left without giving any explanation to anyone at all. 

We should all learn from the historic evils of war……..but here we are 78 years later and it’s Russia who’s at it this time!

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France May 2022

Covid had prevented us from visiting our favourite caravanning destination, France, so it was with great anticipation and excitement that we hitched up the caravan for the long journey down the M27 to Portsmouth.

We took an overnight crossing to St Malo and then a days’ drive to the île d’Oléron where we were to meet up with our friends Kevin and Maggie, whomoved over to France before the pandemic to start a new life!

It was a lovely place to celebrate my birthday, plenty of great seafood and quaffable wine!

However I did get a bit of a surprise when I ordered a glass of red wine! (A ‘vin rouge’ for those who don’t speak French!)

After 4 days of taking in the sights, sounds and tastes of the seaside we headed inland to see Kevin and Maggie’s new place in the heart of the Nouvelle-Aquitaine countryside. The nearest town is Melle.

It’s huge, and there was plenty of room to park our caravan for the next part of the trip.

One of our day trips took us to Verteuil-sur-Charente where Kevin had seen James Martin (the T.V chef) trying some of the local delicacies. One in particular was the brioche, which we sampled along with a cup of coffee on the banks of the river. It was unlike any other brioche we had tasted, similar in consistency to lardy cake and absolutely delicious.

We had a walk around the charming town before meeting up with a couple of Kevin and Maggie’s friends and having a lovely long lunch at a local bistro (not the one pictured) which we later found out was run by an Englishman.

We did a fair bit of al fresco dining whilst we were here. Kevin has a healthy appetite and loves to cook. One of his favourite dishes is pizza and he has a small pizza oven outside in the “hanger” just in case anyone is passing and fancies a quick hot and spicy! Here we are in the lovely outside open barn area (the “hanger”)!

Another day trip took us to Cognac, a lovely town to visit. Neither of us like brandy so the only bottle I purchased was a chilled water! The park was very peaceful and wouldn’t have normally been a place we would visited if it hadn’t been for looking for a geocache!

It looks like Maigret is in town!

Kev’s reputation amongst the expat community has spread far and wide, and he volunteered his services (and mine!) to provide evening sustenance at a local wedding!

It didn’t seem like long before we were heading back to St Malo for our return crossing We had a little heart-stopping moment when the satnav took us down a VERY narrow road on a peninsula It was so narrow that I had to unhitch and turn the caravan around using the motor mover…….just the thing you don’t want after an eight hour drive!

We always like to spend a couple of days close to the port before going home as it’s such a fascinating place with so much to see.

We, or should I say I, even found time for a little bit of geocaching in the boat graveyard!

The gardens of a nearby Chateau were free for us to wander around and admire all the wild flowers

St Malo is a beautiful walled town that is often bypassed by people driving off the ferry and continuing on to their ultimate destinations. We love it and are always greeted by great views when we stroll along the ramparts.

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Dominican Republic

Amber Cove

As already mentioned in a previous bog, as soon as most people get of the ship the first thing they do is look for a bar or cafe with free Wi-Fi. Some stay there all day, but I don’t have the right constitution for drinking all day long, although I have tried on many occasions but always failed dismally!

Today we were at Amber Cove which is a purpose-built cruise terminal in the Dominican Republic. It’s a bit like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse but with more clothes and souvenir shops!

I thought Jane might have looked a little bit happier than this at the prospect of a bit more shopping!

We had booked a tour from the ship entitled Puerto plata and the beach. 

Our first stop was Puerto Plata and this was an interesting place with a history going back to Christopher Columbus, but despite all that it was the dancing donkey that I liked the best!

Feed the birds tuppence a bag…….well 2 pesos actually!

It’s hot work being a tourist, and fresh coconut milk really quenches the thirst. What do you think of the shirt…may be a little too subtle?

The beach was to be the final stop on our tour today.

A meal was served  as soon as we got there and then it was time for a swim……..not too sure if they got that the right way round!

It was very windy and with the waves crashing on the shore it was ideal for kite surfing, but a little more difficult for a swim. 

Mind you it was great fun and very refreshing. Then it was time for a lay down on a sun bed and a chance to get lightly roasted. With the wind and the sun it was a little like being in a convection oven. I’m writing this on the way back to the ship in an air-conditioned coach and I can sure feel like I’ve overdone it today!

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St Maarten

Day 5

The small island of St Maarten is half Dutch and half French. We were visiting the Dutch side and we were berthed in Philipsburg. To be honest I don’t think we made the most of our visit here, our last couple of days had been very busy so we decided not to book a tour and just mooch about by ourselves.  We decided to have a later start and then wander into town for a look around the shops (Jane’s idea not mine!) There were, however, 5 other cruise ships in at the same time as us and everything was packed!

Philipsburg is quite a small town with some lovely old buildings and I expect it would be very restful if it wasn’t for all the other ships!

However, the bars and restaurant owners were pleased to see the influx of holiday makers after the forced shut-down caused by the pandemic. There were so many people queuing for seats in restaurants for meals, and to use their free WI-FI, that it was far from the Caribbean ideal!

The standard of graffiti on the walls here was on another level than I’m used to in the UK, it certainly added to the charm of this place!

When we ventured a bit further from the centre of town it got a lot quieter and the beach was almost empty. This was the place I choose for my swim and the water was just lovely!

At the end of the day there was a bit of a traffic jam as the ships set sail for their next ports of call. I hoped they weren’t all going to be the same one again!

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St Kitts.

Day 4

St Kitts Rainforest discovery 

Our transportation for today was another truck with bench seats, this one however was a little more luxurious as it had seat belts which were really needed just to keep you from sliding all over the place!

We had a great guide who was not only knowledgeable but great fun too. 

The ship berthed at a purpose built cruise terminal so there were plenty of shops and bars with free wi-fi, so I took full advantage of the bars and wi-fi and Jane had a good look around the shops!

Our tour to the rainforest started at the ruins of the Wingfield sugar plantation.

The gardens were full of colour and they certainly were a welcome change from the dreary grey that we had left behind only a few days before!

We saw a demonstration of “Batik” fabric printing, which produces the most vibrantly coloured fabrics and takes a great deal of time. Consequently the fabrics were very expensive, so it was just as well that our luggage allowance for the plane back wouldn’t allow us to buy any to take home!!

An example of the local “Batik” fabric printing, I think it’s of some chap called Bob Marley, I’m not sure if you have ever heard of him?

This little fellow was keeping his eye on what was going on around him…….too many people about!

After our look around the old plantation house and gardens we then headed on in to the rain forest. Our guide pointed out many different trees, birds and animals along the way. I didn’t manage to get any photos of the monkeys or the humming birds as they moved too quickly but I did get a few shots of the trees as they were a little slower. Jane was the first to see a monkey and at first I wasn’t sure that she had, “Then I saw here face and now I’m a believer”!

We had to cross many raging rivers on our tour, sometimes swinging on vines and other times fording across waist deep as the water cascaded around us!

I saw this tree but funnily enough I decided not to enquire any further!

This was our mode of transport on the day, the journey back to the ship was more fun and carefree than the trip here as we had sampled a whole bottle of the local rum that was made here on the plantation, mixed with a little fruit punch!!

We stopped at another bar on the way back to the ship just to try one more of those rum punches……they are the main reason that these blogs are getting to you now, way way way after the event!

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Caribbean Cruise 2022

(We are back home now and have access to good, fast, free WI-FI, so this is being written retrospectively)

Barbados

Days 1 and 2

Gatwick/Barbados 

We still had one more test to pass and then we would be on our way to Barbados.  We had already taken a PCR test the day before at Eastleigh football ground as this was required for Barbados immigration, and now it was time for the P&O lateral flow test so we could  “ bubble up” to catch the flight and then board the Azura. 

We passed, we were good to go….. the holiday could begin!

The flight was only 8 1/2 hours but the difference in the weather was huge, we left a cold grey rainy Gatwick and arrived in to a very warm Barbados. 

As we had already done all the customs and Covid checks at Gatwick we were able to get straight off the plane and right onto the bus that was waiting on the runway, and then drive directly to the ship. 

The drive from the ship was an experience……. and not necessarily one I’d like to repeat…….very loud  reggae music, no air conditioning, and no suspension (I must be getting old!)

We had the next day in Barbados, enough time to get over the jet-lag, have a look around and pop into Woolworths to get some tonic for my duty-free gin !

I’m not sure it’s the best way to start a cruise……with a tight T-shirt! Maybe I should listen to Jane a bit more and eat a fraction less!

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Time To Go Home

All good things have to come to an end and after having spent 5 lovely weeks in Spain it was time to say goodbye to the sunshine and head for the cold at home.

We planned our route home so that we could pop in and visit Jane’s cousins Janice and William, and Williams wife Selina, who have all recently moved to the Spanish town of Pego, which is not far from Valencia. It was great to catch up with them all and to see their lovely new home. It was also great to have local guides who could show us around the area and take us to the best restaurants!

After a great family catch-up it was time for us to head up north to Santander so that we could catch the ferry home. It took me by surprise how quickly the weather changed as we turned inland and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves surrounded by snow as we were climbing to Teruel, the high spot of our journey back. I found this slightly disconcerting as I had never towed in the snow before, but thank goodness the roads were kept clear and there were plenty of snow ploughs on hand. We managed to get to our overnight stop in Zaragoza without too much trouble!

When we arrived in Zaragoza the skies were clear but it was bloody cold. We stopped in the middle of the city in a municipal campsite, I think we need to return here and explore a bit further……but when it’s warmer!

After a long 12 hour journey we eventually made it to Santander. It shouldn’t have taken us that long but we had a few problems finding a campsite, the one we had originally planned to stay at turned out to be too high in the hills and with snow forecast we both thought it better that we miss this one out and get closer to the city. Our next choice turned out to have closed several years earlier…..which we only found out when we got there! Our next option was a grass pitch on an exposed headland which we had visited previously, and as by this time the wind was getting up to gale force so we thought this wouldn’t be a good idea. We were beginning to worry that we might not be able to find a safe place with power to spend our last night in Spain………but Jane turned up trumps after a furious bit of Googling….. and we got the last space (in the car park) on a site just out of town. We both slept well that night!

The next morning we could see from our window that the see was looking a bit rough which didn’t bode well for our 30 hour crossing to Portsmouth that afternoon, the vast majority of the journey being across the Bay of Biscay…………

We arrived at the port early at midday for our 3.30pm sailing. Normally arriving that early means that you can get on board pretty quickly and are you able to enjoy a meal before the ship sets sail………. on this occasion that didn’t happen. I think with all the extra checks that COVID has brought to us the check-in took us much longer, with many vehicle being turned away. It also didn’t help that we had bikes on our roof making us just that fraction too tall to get on the higher decks so we were one of the last cars to be boarded as we had to go on the bottom deck…………We had been sat in the car in the cold for nearly 3 hours by now, only moving a couple of car lengths at a time, stop start, stop start, so when we finally got the signal for us to get on board…….disaster….. we had a flat battery……..panic…….we were now the last car on the dock……what to do? Luckily we managed to get a jump start from a P&O van………Thank god!!!!!

As for the crossing, it was a bit rough but after a good meal of Beef Bourgignon and chips, accompanied with a few G&Ts, we managed to ride out the storm…….In fact the only problem we had was the mayonnaise incident……but that’s another story!

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