Trinidad, Cuba. This year's destination?

26th to 31st March 2009
Voyage Home - Naples to Weymouth

Naples from the ship at anchor

Voyage Home Days 19 to 22 Thursday to Sunday 26th to 29th March Naples to Livorno

Naples Bay is a most beautiful place. It is a deep bay with the Isle of Capri in the entrance. It is surrounded by steep volcanic hills and in the background are high mountains. They were capped with snow which shone white against the blue sky. For most of our stay we had fine weather and crystal clear visibility. Like much of the Mediterranean coast the bay has been overdeveloped. We have seen much worse but it spoilt it for us.

While the ship was in port loading buses, and possibly guns, for Fidel we were able to explore some of Naples by tandem. It came as a shock to the system. Not only have we been aboard the ship for over two weeks but we had not seen a proper shop or restaurant since we left Halifax over two months ago. Cubans would just not comprehend fully stocked shops, markets with no queues and restaurants and cafés with proper food. They would also not cope well with the traffic levels.

The impression it made on us was amazing and can only be attributed to the Cuban deprivations. This is after all Southern Italy, still the dirtiest, noisiest, most chauvinistic and most unpleasant part of Europe. But we still marvelled at the colourful fruit and vegetable stalls. It was strange to see modern buses and no one riding in stinking lorries.

We enjoyed a pizza nicely cooked and served with a bottle of wine. It was nothing special but after Cuba felt like a superb meal. A downside was the traffic. Naples is not a cycle friendly city and unsurprisingly we saw no other cyclists. Many of the streets are cobbled and we did not have time to get used to the traffic levels let alone the Italian drivers. We knew from experience that they are less likely to hit you than British drivers. Tandeming in Naples after the deserted roads of Cuba was a leap of faith which we survived.

After another day at sea we anchored off Livorno but before we even arrived there were shipboard rumours of more delays. Several of the crew are leaving the ship at Genoa after completing their contacts of three or six months. They are naturally anxious about anything which will delay their departure and upset their travel arrangements.

The stoker, now very homesick, took up the matter with the captain. The news was worse for us than we had expected and changed by the hour. The agent in Livorno eventually instructed the captain to anchor outside the port and to come in on Monday morning. It was now Friday morning. We were not happy.

We think we are suffering from an effect of the economic slow down. The ship is being kept out because they don’t have much cargo and also it costs overtime pay to come into port over a weekend.

We decided that rather than risk further delays at Genoa and Barcelona we would leave the ship at Livorno. The stoker, in conjunction with the captain, had much difficulty corresponding with the agent. Eventually the agent booked us a train from Livorno to Milan and a sleeper from Milan to Paris on Monday. Strand Travel, our London agents who have been very good, booked Eurostar tickets for us and the tandem to London on Tuesday.

 Naples Bay with snow covered mountains behind

Voyage Home Days 23 and 24 Monday and Tuesday 30th and 31st March Livorno to Weymouth

Livorno to Milan

We had a thoroughly boring weekend. It rained heavily all day on Sunday and we did not leave the accommodation block. We were delighted when during breakfast the ship started to move off the anchorage. It seemed just possible that the complex travel arrangements might work.

After we had berthed at the container port the various officials came on board. We were particularly amused by the gun toting Financial Police. It would be nice to think the holsters actually contained a calculator. By 11am all the formalities were completed and the agent gave us the rail tickets to Paris.

We said goodbye to the crew. Despite the delays and aggravation caused by the shipping company and charterer we had nothing but admiration for the officers and crew. We had been 42 days on the Melfi Iberia and travelled over 10,500nm. Captain Bomba and crew brought us professionally and safely to Livorno and made the best of a rolling Atlantic Ocean.

We had an afternoon in Livorno in the spring sun. It was nice to be able to relax and make our way slowly to the train station. We had plenty of time to find the platform and dismantle the tandem. When the train arrived we had a huge pile of bags.

We don’t think we would have got on easily without our 1st class tickets. Surprisingly these trains have no luggage space except in racks above the seats. The ticket collector found us an empty compartment which we filled.

Arrival in Milan was dismal - Beckham is welcome to it. The management liberated the only trolley on the station. Even this would not have been possible without tiny mole grips recommended by Chris Juden. Being typically Italian where function comes a very poor second to form there was no food of any kind on the station. The management ran the gauntlet of local winos, avoided McDonalds and bought pizzas from some way outside. It took so long that the stoker was wondering about a search party.

Weymouth station after 24hours travel from Italy

Milan to Weymouth

The train worked fine and we got the bike, luggage and ourselves into the two berth sleeper. The staff did not mind at all. We arrived in Paris Bercy station half an hour late on a bright frosty morning.

With a tight but doable schedule to catch the 11.13 Eurostar to London we cycled across Paris the quickest way using the GPS. Surprisingly we had cycle lanes most of the way. Arriving with time to spare we went straight to registered baggage to check in the tandem. “We will shorten it” we said, knowing that tandems are not allowed. “No, it will be fine as it is” the baggage man replied. We were very grateful. We then went through the idiotic Cuban style baggage checks and waited the regulation 30 minutes before getting on the train. Despite all this it showed no sign of taking off. In fact it behaved just like the average train where you turn up on the platform five minutes before departure and get on. And before anyone mentions the tunnel we crossed the Alps and the French border while we were asleep last night with no delays or “security” checks at all.

At St Pancras the stoker made straight for the baggage car. Not shortened the tandem had been hung at an angle taking up all of the limited bike space. The attendant said “We don’t take tandems” as he got it out. The bike is supposed to be collected from the bowels of the station but collecting it from the baggage car saved a great deal of time, saved the baggage handlers a job and gave us something to hang the luggage on. Everybody was happy.

Cycling across London is almost a pleasure thanks to Red Ken. Stuart and Sahar welcomed us at Waterloo over a sandwich lunch on the concourse. We boarded the Weymouth train. The tandem fits within the bike space but is against the rules. It was no problem as we did not have a jobsworth guard onboard.

The excited stoker spent the journey texting people to announce our return. She was rewarded by a welcome from Sue at Dorchester Station and Janet at Weymouth. We cycled home along the Rodwell Trail and were delighted to see the food kindly left by Janet and the milk from the milkman. It is lovely to be home though it will probably take the management in particular several weeks to adjust.

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