Saturday, 26 September 2009

The swing of things

We're now well into the second week, and I think we've adjusted now. We've had no more incidents of nausea, although one day the Captain did warn everyone it was going to get bad - but either we'd adapted to the movement or nothing happened. The past few days we have

- Won three quizes, two of them the big evening showpiece ones. Free meals (in the restaurants, as the buffet is free anyway) and cocktails all round. I think we are going to retire from these, it's getting embarrassing.
- Held our own at blackjack, retreating a bit from where we were, but we are still reasonably well up.
- Visited Carthage (cool) and Sidi Bou Said (touristy).
- Guided ourselves around Rome, much better than a tour.
- Played bingo about 435 times, or so it seems. We've got our own dabbers, it seems a shame not to use them.
- I've read four books now, three of them in three days.
- Used the gym a couple of times.
- Eaten waaaaaay too much.
- Discovered the cocktail bar.

Today Elaine and I are doing a "Taste of Italy" cookery day. I think October will be characterised by

- Not eating much
- Exercising like a bastard

Bring it on.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Days 4-7

Naples - not as bad as I thought it would be. Danger of death seemed fairly low.
Pompei - much bigger than I remembered, very interesting.
Florence - fantastic place, brilliant ice cream.

OK, now some general thoughts.

Stuff that is good:
- Food on the ship. It's tasty, interesting, varied and available 24 hours a day. Obviously the menus change throughout the day and at 2am the choice is limited, but it's always there.
- Casino. Very quiet, and we keep winning.
- Visiting different places without any effort.
- The gym. Again, very quiet, good equipment. Helps battle the food.
- The cinema. It's like a proper one, with big red seats and room for about 300 people.

Stuff that is not so good:
-Feeling like a total tourist on the guided trips. I much prefer wandering round alone rather than being shepherded round in a big group with a radio headset on listening to dull facts.
- The swaying of the ship on occasions. Last night was particularly bad, and Elaine is still feeling rubbish this morning. I didn't feel particularly great either. I think that having to motor at top speed because we'd broken down for a bit just outside Corsica probably didn't help.
- The huge fat whale people who inhabit the sun deck. Please, put all that flesh away. Especially the breasts. I don't want to see those.
- The whistle-stop nature of some of the ports. Five hours in Corsica? Is there any real point?

Week two beckons...

Friday, 18 September 2009

Day 3 - Tunis

Tunis - snake charmers, acrobats, street markets... none of those were present. After visiting Marakesh a couple of years ago it all seemed a bit tame. Nice enough, and the tour we did couldn't really have been any better given the source material, but it didn't really have the buzz that I was expecting.

The weird thing on this trip is the whole concept of waking up in a completely different place, without any real perception of travel. It's like I've stayed in the same place and the world has moved around me. Normally, travelling involves some kind of effort - even if it's enduring a five hour car ride from the back seat. A cruise takes all this away and you magically find yourself in another country after a night's sleep.

After Tunis we had a busy day - pub quiz, gym, bingo (I know, I know..), movie quiz, blackjack tournament, real blackjack, late night food then bed.

Blackjack tournament? Yup, you get £1000 to play with, seven hands to end up with as much as you can, and the top seven people from qualifying get to the final. Both Elaine and I made the final - I was second on the leaderboard, Elaine about 6th. It wasn't really difficult to get there. I think that there were only about ten people who tried. The final was great fun - play aggressively, look at what the others are doing, think a little about strategy. It got to the final hand with three or four people on similar numbers of chips - I had to bet first (there is an order to this in tournament play), so I went all in, full expecting at least one other to put in a bet of the smae size. But they didn't - and it led to a situation whereby if the dealer busted (therefore everyone winning their bets) I would be the overall winner. The dealer's up card was a two, so there was an OK chance that she would... but she didn't.

I ended up with nothing, Elaine came third (and won a hat!), and then we played properly for a couple of hours for and made £100 or so.

Maybe next week.

Day 2

Last night we ate at the slightly better buffet place - the food is surprisingly good, mid-range Vegas casino level. By this time we had set off, so there was definitiely a rolling of the boat that made you feel like you'd drunk eight pints, before you'd drunk anything. After eating we went to a quiz, where one team managed to win with 520 points out of a possible 490. I don't think the team marking their paper would have done well at arithmetic. We'd missed the Opening Night Spectacular Extravaganza, so we went up to the casino.

One worry with casinos is the subject of minimum bets. We're careful with our better so we'll often trawl casinos looking for the lowest minimums, in order to minimise our potential losses. On the boat this wasn't an issue - £2 minimums felt low, even to us. We played for about two ours, and managed to erode our pooled stake money from £100 down to £4. Still, we were having a good time, chatting to some pleasant people (some of whom were under 40!). Then gradually we started to bring the money back in. At 12:25am I suggested to Chris that we stopped at 1am (unless we lost everything sooner) then with a spectacular run of luck we found ourselves almost back even at 12:30am. Chris was getting tired by this point and the luck probably wouldn't continue, so we quit with an overall loss for the night of £8.50!

This morning consisted of a heathly breakfast, followed by the gym, followed by food, followed by lazing in the sun/shade and reading. I could get used to this.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cruising - A Beginners Guide

It's the little things that are different - the ledges round the edge of tabletops. The vacumn toilets. The oval window. Oh yes, being on a cruise ship is similar in a lot of ways to a feature-rich hotel, but you know that you're just one stormy night and an iceberg away from bobbing around wearing a fetching orange floatation vest.

Of course, this being the Med, the is little chance of 'bergs (as we seasoned cruisers call them). We have had torrential rain, thunder and lightning though - on the first afternoon. We've also explored the ship, toured the ladies changing rooms, hit the buffet and found the only decent coffee place.

The gym is strange. The cardio machines are arranged looking out of a panoramic window, towards the direction of travel. The area for floor work doubles as the nightclub dancefloor in the evenings, and the whole area is surrounded by comfy seating - so all the pervs and oldies can watch people getting sweaty.

Chris is down there now, entertaining the old ladies.

More later - boat sinking drill due in 15 minutes. I hope that they can refloat it afterwards.

Monday, 14 September 2009

If the Wessex 100 had been a race...

...then I reckon our team would have won.

The Wessex 100 is a 100 mile sportive starting in Bath, looping out to Salisbury then back to Bath via Devizes. A sportive is a non-competitive road event, generally fairly long but often with shorter options.

Three of us rode it (along with a whole bunch of people we didn't know) - Jon, Phill and me. As we'd opted for the full 100 mile version, it meant a 7am start, which meant getting up at 4:50am. Shudder. This was after a day of eating carbs and less pleasantly, feeling headachey and nauseous. Hmm. Not good preparation.

Still, when I woke at 4:47am, beating the alarm, I felt really good - wide awake and raring to go. I got to the start point at about 6:30am to meet Jon and Phill. After the usual pre-ride preparation - load up with food and drink, check the bike, get stabbed by safety pins putting on the race number, stab Jon back in revenge - we were ready to roll.

The hooter hooted, and we were off. A group of people disappeared into the distance as we warmed into the first few miles, but the pace of our group quickened as we started to suck people up. After about 5 miles Jon announced he needed a piss. On about 20 miles, Phill hit the front and despite wearing a parachute style jacket managed to pull our group of twenty or so along at a nice 20mph+ average. He only dropped off to remove his parachute, but was soon on the front again. On 25 miles, Jon announced he really needed a piss. We suggested that he should try and get away at the next climb (he's a good climber, weighing about 25kgs - including his bike), have his piss, then we'd catch him up. Of course, when we hit the climb there was no way we were going to let him get away. By 40 miles he was about to explode, but with the halfway stop coming soon there was no point him having one now...

Ah yes, the halfway stop. This ride included a compulsory 30 minute stop. You had a time card that was marked when you got to the refreshments area, and when you left - and there had to be 30 mins between the two. At the halfway point we were the second group in, with about 15 people ahead of us. By being slightly sneaky we left at about the same time as the lead group, only having waited 25 minutes. What a crime.

So, half done - in about 2 hours 30 minutes. We were again in a group of about 20, Phill mostly on the front, me sitting second or third, Jon within a couple of places of that. There were a couple of little breaks (by Phill) but between Jon and I we pulled him back. Then on about 70 miles, a very strong looking rider in full Astana team kit got on the front... and just pulled away. Wow. Clearly Phill was a little tired from leading the race for about 50 miles, so I went to the front and absolutely buried myself trying to bring him back. Another guy in a "Cycle2Work" kit swapped turns with me a couple of times, and we were just getting close to him when we hit Devizes and the traffic. This both helped and hindered - hindered us first as we had to wait at a roundabout for a moment, then helped as Lance-a-like was held up by a caravan (which very rarely happens on the tour).

There was a descent out of the town and we just managed to catch him, at which point I looked back to discover our group of twenty was now a group of six. Me, Phill, Jon, Astanaman, Cycle2WorkMan and another guy who we lost fairly soon later. Talking to Jon later, when we upped the pace to catch Astanaman the group split, and Jon just managed to hang on to us. He'd been feeling bobbins from the halfway point - the piss must have sapped his strength.

So, down to the last 5. I was starting to feel stronger by this point (clearly I take four hours to get going, and being towed along by Phill makes things much easier) and with the help of a Torq caffeine gel I went to the front and led from about mile 90. The odd traffic light, roundabout and gentle climb led us back into Bath, towards the final mile.

The final mile was a hill with an average gradient of about 13% and sections of 20%. Steep. Brassknocker Hill, for locals. Still, we had a couple of minutes to steel ourselves for it, as once again traffic lights held us up. As we were waiting Phill came up behind us - we'd lost him at some lights a few miles back - and he continued through the red light, shouting that if he stopped he'd never start again.

All of this was set up perfectly for Jon.

- He'd had a good tow round by his team mates
- He weighs 25kgs, including his bike
- He no longer needed a piss

Lights turn green, we hit the hill, and up he floats - slowing distancing us all. I passed Astanaman and Cycle2Workman (and Phill) to get to the top second, and from there it was just a few hundred yards on the flat to the finish.

Perfect teamwork. Phill wears everyone out, I hang in there for the last few miles, we deliver Jon to the bottom of the climb and he breaks away to a glorious victory.

If, it had been a race. It wasn't. But it's probably the closest we're ever going to get.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Riding, Cleaning, Planning

Riding - A return of the traditional Friday Ride, after work with whoever turns up. There was me, Caroline, Dave Martin and Robin (who I've not seen for months). Navigation was by hive-mind, I learnt some new trails in my locals woods, and we had a great time. Oh, possible new favourite post-ride pub - good local beer, Mini Cheddars for the Mini Cheddar eater.

Cleaning - The Orca, ahead of sportive next Sunday. First time I've washed it, and I washed it very carefully. Super shiny now.

Planning - Two things I suppose: booked on a trip for next year (dependent on numbers - quite likely it won't happen), and I've subscribed to the premium edition of Training Peaks. So far, so good - some good features and I've not found anything I want to do with it that it doesn't do.

That is all.