A MOMENT IN TIME- CHAMPAGNE SUNSET IN SCANDINAVIA

Champagne, sunset and Silversea. What could be finer?

Champagne, sunset and Silversea. What could be finer?

It was one of those moments that have to be seen to be believed. The late evening air in the summer time Baltic was as warm as toast. I was quite alone, out on the aft terrace of the Panorama Lounge aboard the stunning Silver Whisper, on the last night of a brilliant, week long sweep through the highlights of the region. Most people had already headed down for one last, splendidly lazy dinner. Me, I hung back for a little while.

I’m so glad that I did.

This amazing, visual feast slowly unfolded in front of me, flooding my senses with a sight so wonderful and mellow that it made for a visual banquet, one seemingly laid on only for me. With no muzak polluting the air waves, the only sound was the heaving, low surging, gun metal gray rollers of the ocean, as the sun turned it into what looked like a sea of blazing straw,

Time itself seemed to stand still. I hardly dared breathe, for fear of shattering the rare, fragile beauty of the moment. It was a scene so vivid, one as fragile as glass. A moment that would possibly never, ever be repeated. And yet today, it is seared into my soul and my senses as indelibly as if I had been branded, sealed there forever.

And, of course, Silversea and champagne go together as seamlessly as Rodgers and Astaire. Glacially cold, bubbly, and tremendously life affirming right at that moment. No other drink would have done justice to such a stunning moment. It seemed to me that Mother Nature deserved a toast, and so….

I lifted the glass in the direction of the sunset and, as if predestined, the fiery, slowly setting sun ghosted right across the centre of my flute, burnishing it with a fabulous, golden sheen that simply took my breath away.

It was a stunning, spontaneous moment, unscripted and unbidden. But it sprawled across my senses like a slowly unfurling red carpet; a compelling, almost hypnotic pastiche that will stay with me until the day that I die. The sheer, serene solitude and yet, at the same time, the feeling of being totally at peace, at one with everything around me, was as deep and profound as the ocean itself.

And if you wonder why I still travel after all these years- and sometimes even I still do myself- well, this photograph should go a long, long way towards answering that question.

A single moment. An endless voyage. Here’s to the next one….

THE ORIENT EXPRESS- THE ENGINE OF HISTORY

Unreal, and yet....

Unreal, and yet….

It’s like boarding a travelling time machine. A time machine a full quarter of a mile long. Seventeen gleaming carriages. Blue, snow white and gold, burnished to perfection. Shining like a perfectly polished diamond. As perfectly poised as the most graceful of swans.

It’s a nine hundred mile voyage across five countries, through some of the most stunning scenery that Europe can boast. The Dolomites. The Brenner Pass. Paris and the Eiffel Tower. And the sweet, sensual finale; that slow, graceful approach across Mestre, before finally arriving in the most beautiful city in the world.

It’s Agatha Christie and the ridiculously dapper Poirot. Spies and courtesans. Arms dealers, presidents and king’s messengers. Even the odd king or two.

It’s the Orient Express. After all, what else could it be?

It’s a sumptuous, five course, two hour dinner in a gently shuddering Art Nouveau railway carriage as you rumble sedately across the Swiss frontier. It’s breakfast coffee and croissants in your snug, wood panelled little cabin as the train romps purposefully across the springtime plains and meadows of alpine Austria.

Now we may begin...

Now we may begin…

The Orient Express takes you on two journeys at the same time; the aforementioned voyage across Europe either to or from Venice, and a trip back in time to the days when the ‘Grand Hotel on Wheels’ really was the way to swagger across the continent in effortless, elegant style. On the Orient Express, it still is.

There’s the knowledge that this is no hackneyed, Disney-esque style recreation. This is the real deal; the actual wagon-lits carriages from the 1920’s; updated, meticulously restored, and then buffed to cosmetic perfection. The entire train is like one shimmering, gleaming stage set. And every passenger is an actor with a role to play. There’s fun, style and drama at every table setting.

And, naturally, you cannot be overdressed…

It’s tuxedos and chocolate martinis. Ostrich feathers, outrageous pearls and opulent, art deco table lamps. The popping of champagne corks and the subtle, wondrous vibe of a tinkling Baby Grand as it drifts through a cloud of Chanel. It’s laughter at sunset as the train rumbles through the slowly darkening suburbs of Paris.

The Orient Express is a fancy dress party par excellence; the Ritz on wheels. A magical, gently shuddering wonderland, awash with a surfeit of snow white tableware and exquisite, shimmering crystal champagne goblets. And it is never, ever dull or mundane.

Train ride, anyone?

Train ride, anyone?

It is thirty-one hours of delicious frivolity and sophisticated indulgence.  The adventure of a lifetime. A living, moving dream, writ large in lalique, lacquered panelling and exquisite marquetry.

It’s a celebration and a continuation. The good life defined and rededicated to a new age. Timeless elegance. The trip of a lifetime.

“En voiture, s’il vous plait, mesdames et messieurs….”

CHAMPAGNE AND SUNSETS- THE PERFECT PARTNERSHIP

The perfect combination...

The perfect combination…

Just consider this picture; a gracefully setting sun that seems to be falling bit by bit into a glass of champagne. Of all the many thousands of pictures I’ve ever taken on cruises over three decades or so, I don’t think any other one quite captures the elegant, timeless essence of a true luxury cruise quite as deftly as this one. A real freak shot, but a beauty for all that.

It was shot from the terrace outside the Panorama Lounge aboard Silversea’s stunning Silver Whisper. We were sailing between Helsinki and Copenhagen, winding down towards the end of what had already been a truly memorable cruise.

It’s all the more improbable when you consider that it was taken in the notoriously fickle Baltic in August. The sea really was that benign for a whole week; we sailed in and out of a constant, mind blowing conga line of such fierce, fiery floor shows, courtesy of Mother Nature. And that got me thinking….

There has long been an almost symbiotic, truly sybaritic relationship between champagne and sunsets at sea. They are the Rogers and Astaire of  that most mesmerising and poetic of mid ocean combinations. The champagne dances on your tonsils even as the sunset flits across your field of vision like some exquisitely choreographed dance routine.

This kind of strange, magical evening can happen almost anywhere in the world, but the experience is honed to almost exquisite clarity out at sea. With little or no land based pollution to distort the view, the sunsets seem to unfold in magnificent, slow motion cinemascope.

You might consider that such a sight and taste sensation deserves some kind of epic soundtrack. And you’d be right, in part at least. Because here, once again, it is Mother Nature that pulls out all the stops.

Anyone who has ever heard that gentle, swishing sound of water against a slowly moving ship’s hull will certainly know exactly what I mean. It’s as low key and exquisite as a superb base line, and not one bit less compelling. It fills the electrified ether between sea and sky with the power of a quiet storm; a sound and a feeling quite impossible to replicate on dry land.

All of these things combine to create something so rare, special and tender that you hardly dare breathe, in case it fractures like some beautiful, broken butterfly. It’s a moment too intense and precious to last forever. Something as fleeting and fragile as it is exquisite and beautiful.

And yet… these memories do last. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll happily drink to that.

Cheers.

FOUR THINGS ABOUT CRUISING THAT MAKE ME GO ‘WTF’….

Please, Mommie Dearest; if it says 'Adults Only' pool, that's exactly what it means

Please, Mommie Dearest; if it says ‘Adults Only’ pool, that’s exactly what it means

On average, I’d argue that most cruises and sea voyages are 99 per cent fun, one per cent minor annoyances. I know  a lot of that comes down to individual preferences and/or tolerance levels; we’re not all wired to the same standard. We react in different ways and styles to what we perceive as anything that rains on our parade.

And so, just to throw this out there, here’s a handful of things that leave me wondering the proverbial ‘wtf’….

1) Untrained staff

One night before dinner on a cruise, I asked my stewardess- a lovely, sweet girl- if she would open the champagne in my room and put it out on the balcony for later.

I return to find that she has, indeed, done just that. Silver ice bucket, white cloth, gleaming glasses…. and a corkscrew bottle opener, placed by the bucket on the table outside.

I had to smile; the poor girl had not been shown how to open champagne. Incredible. She had done what she thought to be the next best thing.

Not a huge deal, and funny in it’s own way. Certainly not her fault that she hadn’t been trained to do something so simple. But it is the fault of the hotel manager.

Memo to hotel managers; please ensure that your staff are trained to perform the simplest and most basic tasks. It makes life better for everyone.

2) Kids in adult only pools/hot tubs

Gah! The bane of my existence. There I am, wonderfully par boiled in a gorgeously bubbling hot tub somewhere warm when… bam!  Junior and his/her little friends decide now is a great time to come and cannon ball into the adults only Jacuzzi.  Yep, the one sporting the big sign- written in English- that says ADULTS ONLY.

Worst of all, mummy is sitting on a sun lounger a few feet away, completely ignoring the signs. Every so often, she might mumble a weak-as-water ‘calm down, Stephanie’ to her charming child. Sorry. My mojo has already been spoiled, because you think rules only exist for little people. Not your little people, naturally.

And cruise staff who just ignore this make my blood boil. Why have rules if you’re not going to enforce them? It’s chocolate fireguard syndrome.

Please, mother dear. Show some consideration. Don’t make me bring my electric cattle prod. I hate the singe of charred flesh in the morning.

3)  Constant tannoy sales pitches

A bit of cool, mellow, late night jazz needs no extra sound track, thanks

A bit of cool, mellow, late night jazz needs no extra sound track, thanks

Dear Cruise Director; these really do put the ‘annoy’ in ‘Tannoy’. It is truly thoughtful of you to interrupt my sleep at three in the morning to remind me that there will be naked dwarf throwing at sunrise on the lido. But allow me to let you in on a little secret; I’ve already read about it in the programme, thank you.

Most adults on cruises- and I stress ‘most’- are capable of reading and deciding what they want to do during their time on board. Constant tannoy reminders seem to presuppose that we are all either illiterate, or in the deathly grip of advanced Alzheimer’s. Well, after a week of being bombarded with this verbal dross fest, dementia begins to look more and more appealing. I know you have sales targets to meet, but please- tone it down at little? Thank you.

4) Passengers shouting in music venues

Dear loud fellow passenger: this one is for you.

When I go to a music venue late at night, it’s usually with the hope of hearing some cool, classy jazz over an artfully crafted martini or two. I don’t go there to hear your tequila fuelled, boom box level of inane verbosity, kindly sharing your wonderful experiences ashore in Hooters that day. In short, have some consideration for those around you.

Else, next morning,  when you emerge from the boggy lair that constitutes your cabin and you shamble up to the buffet feeling like death warmed up, I may be obliged to take it upon myself to start reading out the full daily programme, line by line, in a very loud voice. Before the tannoy gets there first. Point made?

These are just a few of the things that raise my blood pressure like a Saturn Five cleared for take off. Misunderstandings are a fact of life; they happen. But simple, common courtesy? It’s not rocket science now, is it?