I am sitting on the upper deck of a train approx. 20 ft off the ground travelling at speeds up to 150 mph across France from Lille in the North to Marseilles in the south. The carriage has every facility and the train is smooth and almost noiseless; the scenery is lovely and we learn that to take it in you must look several hundred yards ahead of your position or all you get is a sore neck and blurred vision. This is the fabled high speed French bullet train and I am very impressed, Glasgow to Kings Cross was torture compared with this. My Labour colleague Jim Sharkey who is something of an anorak when it comes to rail travel informs me that the Japanese do this kind of thing considerably faster; the mind boggles.
We join our ship “The M.V. Emerald” at Marseilles and she is a beauty; 50 years old and on her penultimate cruise before being decommissioned she is noticeably slower than today’s ships but she oozes charm and style; all oak and brass, very relaxing after the fascinating madness of 150 mph overland. We find our modestly priced cabin to be large and comfortable with TV; phone; radio etc and two large windows or ‘port holes’ as we seafaring types call them; we gaze out as we set off on a flat calm sea, these conditions were to prevail until we docked again at Marseilles on the way back with the exception of a couple of hours in the middle of one night.
Having booked our holiday through a British Newspaper advert we were rather naively surprised to find that there were Approx. 50 English speaking passengers on board with the other 700 made up of Italian, French and German the crew though were all multi lingual and the Filipinos spoke better English than me. I quickly settled in to an ‘at sea’ regime of being out on deck with my books, mags, and papers, mainly in whatever shade I could find because the heat was intense; this made it necessary to drink lots of cold beer to stay hydrated, the Filipino waitresses quickly started greeting me with a shout of “meester Terree, large beer” they did this on shore as well which was a scream although the boss didn’t always think so.
We went to Genoa; then Naples; Athens and various Greek Islands; Patmos, Santorino and others, my father had been in a lot of these places during the war and it was quite poignant being there and imagining him there as a young man some 65 years ago, he described to us once a terrifying journey where his troop ship sailed through the Straits of Messina between Sicily and the mainland of Italy which was occupied at that time; this was done in the dead of night with the soldiers lying on deck whispering to each other about who could and who couldn’t swim and afraid to light a fag; the narrowest point is only 3 miles apart.
It was a really nice Holiday and I would definitely do it again but not in July; we saw some beautiful places and met some lovely people. On the last leg of the sea journey back to Marseilles in the middle of the night I woke and went to the bathroom and found myself gripping the side of the bed as I realised that the boat was rolling from side to side, these were big swells but not rough; the boat swayed as I looked out to see the water come up to meet us and then recede, this lasted about 2 hours and was quite enjoyable after about 10 minutes or so once I was sure we were in no danger.
I realised again that I am quite happy to sit on deck and read while at sea and visit churches and museums when on shore or put another way I am getting older; I’m now 60 and half my life is gone.