Friday, April 15, 2011

Rule Brittania. An Old Friend Sails into Town

An old friend arrived in Monaco this morning and took me by complete surprise.

I was just setting out on a morning power walk, descending the first of 2 long staircases.  When I arrived at the bottom I turned a corner and there she was, the Queen Mary 2, a formidable presence anchored in the harbour.

I have fond memories of the QM2 and they came flooding back when I saw her.  Ages ago when we were all young and had no wrinkles, Uncle Jim and I took the Maiden Voyage from Southampton to Ft. Lauderdale. Please walk down the gang plank and into the Auntie Time machine......

On January 12th, 2004, along with about 2,600 other lucky passengers, we boarded the shiny new QM2.  We were sizzling with excitement and anticipation.  After we had unpacked, we joined everyone on the upper deck to watch the fireworks, drink Champagne and enjoy being part of an historic moment.  After an hour or so, the thunderous steam-powered ship's horn sounded, we threw some confetti around and off we sailed into the night for our 14-day adventure.

We had a great time on board.  We drank cocktails with our fellow ship mates and new found friends, dined lavishly, and spent quality time at the spa (me) or in the largest library at sea (Uncle Jim).  There was never a lack of things to do.  We could chose between a theatre, cinema, planetarium, casino, pub, gym, shopping arcade, champagne bar,  wine bar, nightclub, book shop, art gallery and an outdoor pool.  Even the dogs and cats had fun:  the QM2 has room for 12. 

Evenings in the Queen's Grill dining room were glamorous:  gowns and tuxedos were mandatory and everyone wore beautiful jewelery and smelled nice.  After dinner there was dancing into the wee hours in the ballroom and performances in the theatre.  Dame Shirley Bassey was one of the entertainers.  I couldn't help thinking through a champagne-fuelled haze that this was what it must have felt like to be on the Titanic's maiden voyage before it sank.

I loved the way everyone welcomed us at the many ports of call.  Arriving in Funchal, Portugal before the sun was up we were greeted by what appeared to be fireflies everywhere but were in fact camera flashes set off by the thousands of people who turned out in the dark to greet us and take pictures of the ship.

The QM2 is a sturdy and robust ocean liner, much more so than a cruise ship. It's built with a massive and deep hull, able to withstand rough seas during perilous transatlantic crossings.  And a good thing too.  Mere days into our voyage we encountered massive swells that sent everyone to the ship's doctor for seasick shots.  As a precautionary measure, centrepieces and glassware were removed from the tables in the dining rooms, cupboards were secured, sick bags were hung on strategically placed hooks throughout the ship and restaurants were on limited service.  If we had been on a cruise ship we would have been much worse off or capsized.  As for me, I was on a treadmill in the the gym enjoying the ride.

Christened by her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, the QM2 was named after her grandmother, Queen Mary of Teck or to be more precise, Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes, Queen Consort of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, Empress Consort of India.  Whew.

Just like Queen Mary's full name, the QM2 was too big to moor at Monaco's Digue, a man-made dock where most cruise ships rest when they stay in Monaco.  Throughout the day, little boats that popped out of the hull  tendered passengers from ship to shore and back again.

Well, a lot of time has passed since we were on the Maiden Voyage of the QM2.  I searched my computer's photo directory for some snaps to share with you but alas, it was before digital photography and cell phone cameras were popular so just like everyone else did in the stone age, our photos were safely pasted into an album that we bought on board with "QM2" stamped in gold on the cover.

Maybe some day we will jump on board the QM2 for another adventure but I'd better pack my bags soon:  a Hong Kong fortune teller once told me not to go near deep water when I'm 55. 

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