MSC Melody Cruise Ship
MSC Melody Cruise Ship

It was a bleary eyed start to the day for me, having slept quite late the night before, packing and finishing up on a few emails, including a late booking on the Euro Star to Paris next month.  The alarm was set at 3.30 am, so that we could snooze for about half an hour, before getting up and rushing to get out of the house by 4.30 am.  You see, we’d discovered a cheap way to get to Heathrow Airport.  Rather than pay 30 pounds to get to the airport, we’d decided to save ourselves a quid or twenty-eight by catching the local bus.  It cost us 2 quid. The first service started at 5.02 am.

It was really quite exciting to be moving luggage in the wee hours of the morning.  We left our apartment at about 4.40 am for a brisk walk down the hill.  We definitely wanted to be early for our bus.  We needed to check in about 2 hours earlier for our flight departing at 7.55 am.  The walk wasn’t too bad, and the morning wasn’t too cold.  There was no one about and it felt like the wheels of our luggage was making a huge noise.  However, as we got close to town, we noticed people already waiting at the bus-stop.  Ok.  We are not the only crazy people in town.

Our bus was pretty quiet for that time of the morning.  However, as the trip wore on, the bus became seriously full.  Many of the passengers were shift workers heading to Heathrow.  It was quite interesting watching people.  Who were they?  Were they catching a flight, or were they engineers on an early morning shift, or were they retail workers or cleaners?

Whatever it is, they were all grumpy, including the bus driver.  Admittedly the bus driver was being accommodating – the bus was already quite full.  But sometimes I’m not sure about these British passengers.  Don’t they know that a simple rule of catching the bus is “Move to the back”?  Anyway, this led to grumpy passengers and grumpy bus driver.  What results is mis-understanding.  Because the bus was absolutely full by the time we got to Heathrow Terminal 4, a passenger had to leave by the back door and try to pick up her luggage which was by the front door.  (Why she did not keep her luggage close by to her is beyond me, but anyway ….)  Bus driver misunderstood and thought she wanted to board the bus.  Passengers standing by her bag, knowing what she was asking for, simply took no initiative to move out of the way so that she could get her bag.  Passenger finally made herself understood by bus driver, and got her bag off the bus, but not before she swore at the bus driver.

Felt sorry for the bus driver, to be honest.  Unhelpful passengers, and aggressive passengers.  Passengers without initiative and only thinking of themselves.  No one listening to anyone.  Maybe they were sleepy.  I know not all Brits have such levels of unhelpfulness, but I’m left with a negative impression that I’m still processing.  I know that even in Sydney, a city famous for not being interested in other people, there isn’t this level of disinterest, rudeness and plain apathy.  I’m a bit confused with the generalisation that Brits are polite, but then I see in shops signs that say they take aggression and assaults very seriously and will report it to the police.  I’m left with the impression that if Brits can be aggressive to your face and get away with it, they will.

Anyway, you can tell it was a scene that left an impression on us.

We got to Heathrow Terminal 5.  Wow, what a big difference to Heathrow Terminal 4, which is really a hole and London should be ashamed that it has an international terminal that looks like Terminal 4.  To give you some perspective, Terminal 4 is like Perth Airport 25 years ago before the new airport was built.  But anyway ….  Terminal 5 is another story.  Big, shiny, grand shops, proper counters for processing check-in and baggage.  After checking in and clearing security, we had about an hour to kill before boarding, so we grabbed some breakfast and sat down to people-watch again.  I walked around a bit to look at the shops and see what was there.  Yes, Terminal 5 is very civilised.

The flight to Nice was about 2 hours.  What I liked about flying with British Airways is I do not have to rush to get my seats, quite unlike Easyjet.  Also, I discovered that they accepted my Qantas Frequent Flyer card.  Double bonus!  I shall certainly consider British Airways next time I travel, though admittedly, it is still about 50 pounds higher than Easyjet.  Alot like the Qantas and Virgin Blue debate.  Food on British Airways flight was not too bad.  Sandwiches or rolls with softdrink or wine included.  It was okay.  What do you expect these days?

The landing into Nice was heavy.  Personally, I think the pilot may have miscalculated slightly and was coming in fast.  It was also a short runway, and a hard brake, such that I nearly slid off my seat into my food tray.  Hmm, must remember to tighten that seat belt for next time.

Once we cleared immigration (Yes! Another stamp in the passport), we left the airport and went in search of the people who were due to transport us from Nice to Genoa.  Gotta admit, these chauffeurs could certainly use a woman’s touch.  Men standing around with these itsy bitsy pieces of paper with names written on them.  How the hell is anyone to find them?  Have they not heard of A2 sized paper, colour printers and logos?

Genoa skyline
Genoa skyline
Genoa port view
Genoa port view

Anyway, we finally found our man, who found his other British passengers, and soon we were on the bus to Genoa.  The bus journey was quite long – about 2 and a half hours.  The view was interesting and we passed through many tunnels.  I hadn’t realised quite how mountainous this area was.  (On the way back, I counted at least 130 tunnels.) In between sleep and boredom, we arrived at the port at around 3 pm.  Once we got through embarkation, Swine Flu health questions and passed through immigration again (this time Italian and yes, we got another stamp), we were on the ship.

The ship is much smaller than the Sun Princess.  It’s about 7 passenger decks, 2 swimming pools, 2 restaurants, 2 theatres, a disco, a bar area, and a few other miscellaneous areas.  What I missed was the Promenade deck.  They had a “jogging” track right up above the top deck, but I really would use that term quite loosely.  But overall, it was okay, bearing in mind the price we did pay for the trip.  We found our “stateroom” which was larger than in Sun Princess, and was quite comfortable.

Buffet was …. well, it was a buffet.  We had a quick lunch, and then wandered around exploring.  It was a bit confusing because English is not the primary language spoken on the vessel, and it took us a while to find our way around, get all the relevant information.  I was also feeling quite hot in the Mediterranean humidity and quite grumpy.  I desperately needed a shower, but my bags still had not shown up.  Grumpiness even more.  Visions of bags being left by the port as the ship sailed away began to appear, but of course they were not true.  Half an hour before dinner, bags showed up.  After a shower and a fresh change of clothes, I was feeling human again.

Portofino
Portofino
Simply idyllic
Simply idyllic
Very expensive looking yacht moored off Portofino.
Very expensive looking yacht moored off Portofino.

After dinner, we hung around for a bit and took a look at Portofino.  Our cruise ship was anchored offshore, the harbour not being deep enough.  Unfortunately, we had not organised ourselves to go out on the tender to shore.  Actually, other than booking for this trip and, at the time, thinking that the itinerary was interesting, I had plain forgot what ports we were visiting.  So, it was really a surprise for me in many ways.  Other than that, we went back to the cabin for an “early” night, skipping on the midnight buffet.

Portofino deck party.  Reminds me of scenes from The Love Boat.
Portofino deck party. Reminds me of scenes from The Love Boat.

One thing that struck me was how large Italian towns were.  For some reason (and I don’t know why), I thought Genoa was a sleepy town.  Maybe it is, compared to other large cities.  But Genoa was a lot larger than I had expected.  Certainly it’s a very dense city (as in all other Italian towns) with housing very close together.  Funny how one forms impressions that are totally wrong.

Oh, one more thing about our ship MSC Melody.  We found out on the cruise that the ship had recently been involved in a pirate attack just off the Somalian coast in April this year.  It was doing a cruise from Durban, South Africa to Genoa.  Find out more by following this link.  Ooh, how exciting.