Saga Pearl II Blog
Oct 1, 2014
Before we arrived at Gibraltar we had three relaxing sea days. I write relaxing because the seas and weather have been very kind and gave us calm seas, light winds and even sunshine at times. During these days the passengers had the chance to become familiar with the ship, get to meet and know their fellow passengers and the crew and spend their days either relaxing, attending lectures, instruction, playing games, doing a spot of shopping, being pampered in the spa or hair salon or entertained by our guest and resident entertainers and musicians.
The Cruise Director has the following group of persons at her disposal this cruise to enable the above. Destination Lecturer Alan Batstone, Military Historian Michael Forrest, Cultural Geographer Peter Newsham, Military Historian Jonathan Walker, Historian and Pilot Dr. Michael Fopp, Journalist Historian John Penycate, Photographer Dr. Philip Lawson, Former British Diplomat Keith Muras, Aviation Expert David Pollard, Bridge Instructor George Borwick, Watercolour Artist Tony Westmore, Arts and Crafts Instructor Jessie Lindon, Dance Instructor Olive Bailey, Chaplain Archdeacon Arthur Hawes, Harpist Francisco Yglesia, Vocalist Paul Emanuel, Duo Melody Lane, Vocalist Louise Hoover, Vocalist Peter Fisher, Master Recitalist David McArthur, Soprano Fiona Jessica Wilson, Pianist Maria King, Banjo Entertainer Steve Galler, Theatre Company Caught in the Act, Classical Ensemble Covent Garden Consort, Show Group Explosive Productions, Resident Band The Saga Orchestra, Piano Entertainer Clive Carrington, Duo Superfly and of course her own team of Assistant Cruise Director Emma Payne, Social Hostess Carol Curling, Cruise Staff Members Julie Hunt and Joey Carolan, Stage Manager Bernard Mendoza, Librarian and IT Support Ian Te and Dance Hosts Michael Tsoi, Colin Smith and Barry Fawset. This should entertain our passengers for this 33 night cruise.
This morning we arrived at the pilot station at 7:00am. When entering the port and berthing the ship we were treated to a sunrise that backlit the Rock. We were safely moored at 8:00am. Gibraltar has an interesting and at times tumultuous history. It has been known under different names. Mons Calpe, this was pre Moorish period, Jabal Tariq after the general leading the Moorish invasion in 711, and more recently as Gibraltar, Gib. and also as The Rock. It was ceded by Spain to the Crown of Great Britain in perpetuity in 1713. Ever since that time it has been a strategic, commercial part of Great Britain with a base for the British armed forces and is the site of a Naval Base.
As soon as the ship was cleared our passengers could proceed ashore. The tours today were: “Fortress Gibraltar”, “The Rock”, “Europa Point & English Tea” and “Alameda Gardens and Cable Car Ride” As the Rock only covers 2.5 square miles most of the tours covered similar ground, but had different focus points. For passengers who wanted to explore independently it was a 20 minute walk into town or a 5 minute taxi ride as the ship is not allowed to run a shuttle bus service in Gibraltar. For passengers who remained on board the Cruise Staff had organised and hosted several activities. I took the opportunity to hold a general Safety Drill for all crew members and took them through their paces. All on board was set for 9:30 pm. For those passengers on board this evening there was a choice of entertainment after dinner - either A Classical Recital by the Covent Garden Consort presenting a ”A Night of Classical Favourites" in the Discovery Lounge or to venture onto the open decks to enjoy a ”Dance Under the Stars Party” with the Cruise Staff and musical accompaniment from Clive Carrington, Superfly, the Saga Orchestra and The Explosive Singers till late.
Shortly after all on board we left the berth, disembarked the pilot and were on our way to our next port of call Malaga, while passengers danced the night away on the open decks.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 2, 2014
This morning we arrived at the pilot station at 7 am and were berthed at 8 am. It is a pleasure to be on the bridge at this time as we are now experiencing Mediterranean weather with morning temperatures of a nice 20/21 C (69/72 F).
Malaga is both a port and the Capital of the Costa del Sol, with the Costa del Sol to the west and the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the east. Malaga has a rich fishing history which started when the Phoenicians traded here, and the tradition of fish preserving is still carried on in modern times. From 711 till 1492 the city was run by the Moors. The most prosperous period was in the 19th century when merchant ships maintained a busy trade with ports in Africa as well as the Americas. The city has many attractive and historical buildings of which the Gibralfaro Castle and the Cathedral are the most famous ones.
Soon after our arrival passengers were allowed to proceed ashore. Today’s tours were: "Highlights of Cordoba”, “El Torcal” and "Leisurely Malaga". For passengers who wanted to explore the town independently it was a short shuttle bus ride into town. For those passengers on board cruise staff had organised and were hosting different activities.
All aboard was set for 5.30 pm. Soon after we left our berth and the port, disembarked the pilot, and set course for Valletta. Our entertainment in the Discovery Lounge this evening was a performance by the Covent Garden Consort who played Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor, followed by international vocalist Paul Emmanuel who performed “Unforgettable”, recalling the music of the legendary Nat King Cole. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night Live with the Superfly Duo and piano entertainer Clive Carrington.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 5, 2014
Before we arrived at the pilot station this morning we had enjoyed two relaxing days at sea. After breakfast on the days at sea the instructors, lecturers, Cruise Staff and concessions were busy organising and hosting activities and treatments during the day. In the evenings before and after dinner Shackleton’s is the place for cocktails, drinks and entertainment by Superfly Duo, the Explosive Singers and our own Clive Carrington at the piano. After dinner The Discovery Lounge hosted Showtime with, on these two evenings, the incredible Francisco Yglesia on the Paraguayan Harp, The Covent Garden Consort, the silver voice of Paul Emmanuel and the Explosive Vocalists.
Today we arrived at the Valletta pilot station at just before 7 am. I had advised the passengers about the times we would enter this beautiful harbour. As promised it was a spectacular experience with the light of the rising sun hitting the beautifully restored sand stone buildings. Off the battlements we were saluted by canon fire, while on the open decks bucks fizz and bacon and egg baps were served. It was nice to hear that this was an experience not to be forgotten.
Valletta, the historical city with a population of 6966, is located in the central-eastern portion of the island of Malta. The city is essentially Baroque in character, with elements of Mannerist, Neo-Classical and Modern architecture. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 and is European Capital of Culture for 2018. We berthed at 8 am and soon after arrival the ship was cleared and passengers could proceed ashore. Today’s tours were: “Day Trip to Gozo”. A chance to see Olive Groves, rugged cliffs, breath-taking landscapes and historical remains of the captivating island of Gozo. “Medieval Mdina & Mosta” visits the former capital of Malta known as “Silent City”, which is one of the finest ancient walled cities in the world, followed by a visit to Mosta Square to admire the Mosta Dome. The Dome crowns the Church of the Assumption which was penetrated by a Word War II shell, which landed unexploded on the church floor. “Scenic Malta”. The way to see a lot of the tourist sites in a relaxing way, as passengers were driven along panoramic views from one attraction to the next. For those who wished to explore independently there were four options to get to town. A taxi. Walk, which involved going uphill and scaling 100 steps. The local bus for the princely price of 2.60 Euro. Or walk and take the elevator to the higher part. All very enjoyable.
For our passengers on board the cruise staff had organised and hosted activities. While our passengers were enjoying Valletta, Malta Transportation Department carried out their yearly inspection, during which all documents and certificates were checked and safety, lifesaving and machinery equipment of the ship were spot checked for good condition and operation. The crew had to prove their preparedness in case of an emergency during a drill. At the same time our radio equipment on the bridge went through their yearly inspection and divers carried out the yearly underwater survey. Also the ship took on bunker fuels. So a busy day for both passengers and crew.
As soon as all were on board, all the paperwork relating to the inspections, audits, survey and loading of bunker fuel were completed, we could leave the berth and sailed out of this beautiful harbour with a goodly proportion of our passengers on deck. Once outside we disembarked the pilot and set course for Piraeus. Before dinner there was time to have an Interdenominational Service led by Archdeacon Arthur Hawes and opened by our own Filipino Choir. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by the Covent Garden Consort who presented ”An Evening of Popular Classics” followed by a performance of the Explosive Productions presenting “Let's Swing”. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night live with the Superfly Duo and piano entertainer Clive Carrington 'til late.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 7, 2014
Before we arrived at the pilot station this morning we had enjoyed a relaxing day at sea yesterday. After breakfast the instructors, lecturers, Cruise Staff and concessions were busy organising and hosting activities and treatments during the day. The evening began with our Britannia Club Cocktail Party. Of the 355 passengers aboard, 270 are members, so it was a goodly sized party. Of the 270 members 26 are Sapphire members and 3 passengers achieve Sapphire membership this cruise, so it was my honour to present them with their crystal decanter and their pin. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by Grammy and Olivier Award Nominee Louis Hoover presenting “Salute to Sinatra. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night live with the Superfly Duo with Clive Carrington at the piano.
This morning we were bright and early, 6 am at the pilot station. We have to be so early because there is always a lot of ferry traffic, which has priority over other traffic. Being there at that time ensures we have the pilot before 7 am to be alongside at 8 am. All worked out fine. Piraeus, located in the urban area of Athens, is a port in the region of Attica. The cities history goes back to ancient Greece. It has always been a major port city and is today the chief port of Greece, the largest passenger port in Europe and the third largest in the world. The city provides a wide variety of entertainment and is famous for its tavernas and restaurants. Many of these specialise in sea food and attract many visitors. Soon after berthing we were cleared for passengers to proceed ashore. Today’s tours were: “Athens and the Acropolis” and “Athens City Sight” which took passengers to this famous city visiting the ancient and modern sites this city has to offer. The two other tours: “Ancient Corinth Museum and Site” and Cape Sounio” took passengers outside the city area into the country side, where after a scenic drive they visited these famous sites. For passengers who wished to explore independently it was only a short walk into Piraeus or a metro ride into Athens. For passengers on board the cruise staff had organised and hosted activities.
All on board was 4.30 pm. Soon after this we sailed out of the port, disembarked the pilot and set course for the Dardanelles. Once outside the port we were able to see Piraeus and Athens, with the Acropolis clearly visible on our port side. The evening started today with a pre dinner performance by The Covent Garden Consort in the Discovery Lounge. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by Violin Virtuoso Peter Fisher presenting “A Musical Journey”. Shackleton’s was again the venue for Late Night live with the Superfly Duo and piano entertainer Clive Carrington.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 8, 2014
At 7.30 am this morning we were at the entrance of the Dardanelles. As I have passed through these waters several times and the pilot is not compulsory, I took the ship through this waterway. At 7.45 I was joined on the bridge by Destination Lecturer Dr. Alan Batstone, who gave a very interesting and informative narration of the war monuments and places of interest that we passed. At 9.30 am a commemorative service for the unknown warrior was held, led by Archdeacon Arthur Hawes and attended by most of the passengers. After the Dardanelles we crossed the Marmara Sea. This was the perfect time to hold our very special Feast of the Gods Toga BBQ. The weather was sunny and I think all passengers joined us on deck to enjoy this feast.
We arrived at the Bosphorus pilot station at 5.30 pm. Here the pilot boarded and guided us through this narrow and very busy passage. At the same time Destination Lecturer Dr. Alan Batstone joined us again on the bridge to tell us about the many interesting sights we passed during our passage through the Bosphorus. This evening's entertainment in the Discovery Lounge was An Evening with Classical Pianist David McArthur who presented “From Bach to Gottschalk”. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night live with the Superfly Duo and piano entertainer Clive Carrington 'til late.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 9, 2014
At 7:00am this morning we arrived at the pilot station. The pilot boarded and guided us through the busy port to our berth and we were moored at 8:00am.
Constanta, named after Constantiana the sister of Constantine the Great, lies at the seaward end of the Great Wall of Trajan. There are still considerable remains of ancient masonry walls and pillars, including a recently excavated impressive public building thought to have originally been a port building. In the vicinity of the town are mineral springs and also Mamaia beach which attracts many visitors during the summer months. The harbour, protected by break waters, is well defended from the North winds. It is home to the Black Sea Squadron of the Romanian fleet and a large canal connects the Black Sea to the Danube River.
Soon after the gangway was landed and the officials had boarded the ship the passengers could proceed ashore. Today’s tours were: “Bucharest, Little Paris of the East”. This day trip offered a scenic drive through the country side and rural villages and a tour through Bucharest with its Palace of the Parliament, with its 1100 rooms, constructed during Ceausescu’s rule as well as the more traditional historical buildings. Not forgetting, of course, a traditional Romanian lunch with a glass of wine, accompanied by local folk music and dancing.
“Constanta Highlights and Wedding Folklore” was a guided tour of Constant, reputed to be the oldest inhabited city in Romania and a Romanian folk show representing a typical Romanian wedding. “Ancient Histria and the Roman Mosaic” visited the archaeological site of Histra, a prosperous city from the 7th century BC to the 7th century AD, throughout the Greek, Roman and Byzantine periods and the Roman mosaics, which formerly covered 2390 square yards. It is one of the largest of its kind in the ancient world.
For passengers who wanted to explore independently a short shuttle bus ride took them into town, while for those passengers who chose to remain on board the cruise staff organised and hosted activities.
All on board was 7:30 pm. Soon after this time we left the port, disembarked the pilot and were on our way to Sochi. In the meantime, after dinner, the Discovery Lounge hosted An Evening with Classical Pianist David McArthur who presented “From Bach to Gottschalk”. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night Live with the Superfly Duo and pianist Clive Carrington.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 11, 2014
Yesterday was a relaxing day at sea with lots of sun and calm seas. After breakfast the instructors, lecturers, cruise staff and concessions were busy organising and hosting activities and treatments during the day. After dinner the Discovery Lounge was the venue for a performance by international award winning singer and entertainer Paul Fredricks. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night live with the Superfly Duo and piano entertainer Clive Carrington.
This morning we arrived at 7:00am at the pilot station. This port has always been a bit special for me as it was the first Russian port I called at with a Saga ship, Spirit of Adventure. At the time she was known as Orange Melody because when Saga bought her, and prior to her refit, she was chartered to a Ukrainian company catering for Russian passengers. A very special experience.
Sochi, situated in the Krasnodar Krai near the border between Russia and Georgia, is a popular Russian resort located in a spectacular natural setting with the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains overlooking the gentle shores of the Black Sea. It was established as a fashionable resort area in the years of the Soviet regime. Joseph Stalin had his favourite dacha built nearby. Its many sanatoria, mineral baths, pebbly and sandy beaches, subtropical vegetation, numerous parks and the Caucasian Biosphere Reserve (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) attracts many holiday makers. By the way, today was the second day of Formula 1 qualifying for the Sochi Grand Prix. Very exciting.
Soon after arrival we were cleared for passengers either with an individual visa, or on a tour, to go ashore. Today’s tours were: “Russian Tea Tasting Ceremony”. This tour visited the northernmost tea plantation in the world, which has been there since 1896. After visiting the plantation passengers experienced a typical Russian tea ceremony in the country house style Tea Hall. “Barsova and Stalin’s Dacha”. This tour visited Valerie Barsova’s Dacha and offered the opportunity to learn about her life and career. She was the opera prima at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre. This was followed by a visit to an imposing two story villa, Stalin’s secret dacha. Although it now serves as a hotel for well-connected visitors it is open to the public. It has remained almost exactly as it was in Stalin’s time, with most of its original fixtures still in place. “Dendrarium” visited the Botanical Gardens and Promenade.
All on board was at 5:30 pm, and soon after that we left the berth, swung 180 degrees, sailed out of the port, disembarked the pilot and set course for Batumi. The evening started with cocktails and dinner. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a Classical Recital by pianist David McArthur who performed works by Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Scriabin and Chopin, and a performance by singer and entertainer Louis Hoover, who presented his “Salute to the Legends” celebrating the fabulous music of Tony Bennett, Matt Monro, Andy Williams, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night Live with the Superfly Duo and piano entertainer Clive Carrington.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 12, 2014
This morning we arrived at 7 am at the pilot station. We entered the port and were berthed at 8 am. I was very impressed with the changes in the port. The town and port looks very nice now and it was a pleasure to be berthed a stone’s throw from the town. The sun was shining and everything looked bright and charming.
Batumi, a seaside city on the Black Sea, is located on the site of the ancient Greek colony Bathus. It had a colourful past with occupation by the kingdom of Lazica, the Arabs, the Bagrtid monarchy of Toa-Klarjeti, the unified kingdom of Georgia and the Ottoman Turks. It became the chief Russian oil port on the Black Sea after the construction of the Batumi-Tiflis-Baku railway and the Baku-Batumi pipeline. Until 2007 the town was host to the Russian 12th Military Base.
Soon after arrival we were cleared for passengers to proceed ashore. Today’s tours were: “ Fascinating Batumi”. This tour visited the Botanical gardens at Mtsvane Kontskhi, Mount Batumi and a tour through modern and historic Batumi. “In the Footsteps of the Argonauts" visited Gonio Fortress, an architectural monument that has close links to the myths of the Argonauts and offered a pleasant stroll through Batumi city centre. For passengers who wanted to explore independently Pearl II was practically berthed in the town, so it was only a very short stroll. For those passengers remaining on board the cruise staff organised and hosted activities.
All aboard was 5.30 pm and shortly after this time we left the port, disembarked the pilot and were on our way to Trabzon. Before dinner this evening there was Sunday worship led by Archdeacon Arthur Hawes. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by Violin Virtuoso Peter Fisher, followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night Live with the Superfly Duo and our very own Clive Carrington.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 13, 2014
This morning we arrived at 7 am at the pilot station. We entered the port and were berthed at 8 am. This is a brand new port for me and I am looking forward to the reactions of the passengers to this port and the tours. (This includes my wife and her sister).
Trabzon, which lies astride the road from Istanbul to Iran, has been an important meeting point for international trade. For this reason it has been the basis for several empires over its history. It was originally founded in 756 BC as Trapezus. Subsequently it was added to the kingdom of Rontus, annexed by the Romans, the Goths, the Byzantines, the Ottomans and Russia. Today it is connected to the Coastal Highway and has a new harbour which has enhanced the commercial relations with Central Anatolia and neighbouring districts. Its centre is a hub of shops, stalls and restaurants. Its attractions are: Boztepe Park, Ayadofya Museum, Trabzon Castle and Ataturk Museum. In the province itself the main attractions are Semula monastery and Uzungol.
Soon after arrival the ship was cleared and the passengers could proceed ashore. The tours today were: “Sumela Monastery”. Local legend tells us that an icon of the Virgin Mary, painted by St. Luke, flew away from sinful Athens and landed on the edge of the Black Mountain. Two monks found the icon and built a shrine. A monastery has been on this spot since the fourth century AD. The monastery, which was in use till the 1920s, is located 960 feet atop a sheer sided valley, which makes it an impressive site well worth exploring. Our second tour was“Scenic Uzungol”. Uzungol, high in the mountains, is at the heart of a 4013-acre Nature Park. It has rich plant life, wild life and sightseeing opportunities. This tour offered the opportunity to savour these attractions and see the traditional wooden houses in the village. For passengers who wanted to explore independently we were practically berthed in the town so it was an easy stroll, and for the passengers who chose to remain on board our cruise staff had organised and hosted activities.
Once all our passengers were back on board we left Trabzon, disembarked the pilot and were on our way to Sinop. Before dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a Classical Recital by the Covent Garden Consort playing works by Mozart and Purcell. After dinner international award-winning singer and entertainer Paul Fredericks presented another evening of fabulous music and comedy. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night Live with the Superfly Duo and pianist Clive Carrington.
Captain Cornelis Spekman
Oct 14, 2014
This morning we arrived at 7 am at the pilot station. As the pilot is not compulsory here I took the ship to its berth. This harbour is a pleasure to enter. It consists of a small fishing harbour and a wide open passenger berth. As I said, a joy. At 8 am we were safely berthed, the gangway was landed, the ship had been cleared and passengers could proceed ashore.
Like many of the places around the Black Sea Sinop has a rich history and a string of occupiers through the ages. The Hittites, the Greeks, The Persians, the Romans and quite a few others in the following centuries. It was also the place of the important naval battle of Sinop in 1853 between the Imperial Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire in which the British and French supported the Ottoman Empire. This led to the Crimean War. Today it is a charming fishing port with facilities for cruise ships and it has a healthy tourist industry. Today’s tours were: “Sinop Highlights”. These included the Ethnographical Museum, one of the oldest in Turkey, the Pasha Bastions, Sinop Castle and a folklore show. "Sinop and its Surroundings” was similar to the Highlights one, but with the addition of a visit to Hamsilos National Park. For our more active passengers the “Hamsilos Walking Tour” tour offered a walk in this beautiful National Park. For passengers who wanted to explore independently yet again we were practically berthed in town, so it was a very short stroll.
All on board was 5.30 pm and shortly after this time we left the port and were on our way to Varna. After dinner the Discovery Lounge hosted a performance by pianist David Arthur with “An Evening at the Movies”, followed by a performance of Explosive Productions with their “Big Wheels of Motown” show in which they paid tribute to the Mowtown era. This was followed in Shackleton’s by Late Night Live with Singer Louis Hoover singing requests and favourites till late, accompanied by Alan Atkinson from Superfly.
Captain Cornelis Spekman