24th: Arriving in Namibia felt like the real start of the World Cruise and we docked very early in a busy, working, but neglected Port in Walvis Bay. We skipped breakfast to report for our excursion, experiencing the usual – and when considers the number of passengers opting for excursions here – inevitable wait. But we were on our way by about nine for a coach ride into the Namib desert, first to see the famous Dune 7 – variously advertised as the highest sand dune in Namibia/ Africa/The World – a little of which we climbed. We then went on to see a rather different landscape, signposted as the Moon landscape, which was indeed very different in its spectacular bleakness. And then we made a rather too brief visit to the town of Swakopmund. This was a German town with, evidently, a continuing German expat population (a Bauhaus had a prominent place in the town centre). We stopped briefly (for one of the necessarily regular bathroom breaks) at The Swakopmund Hotel. Converted from the old railway station it was stunning with a beautiful pool between the two main buildings and where the tracks once lay. It was stunning, but like much of the town, hauntingly empty. It was like a film set, and not remotely African.
We returned to the ship and jumped straight on a shuttle to the newly opened shopping mall in Walvis Bay. This was like a mini Blue Water, but dropped randomly into an African desert. But it was useful for a bit of vital shopping and we bought some whisky glasses and a corkscrew for the cabin, some South African Pinot Grigio and, to my delight, a pack of Windhoek Beer (named after the Namibian Capital) which I’ve had before and is excellent. Everything was very cheap. We had coffee and milk shakes at a pleasant cafe before returning to the ship, via a lagoon populated by Flamingos, for about four.
25th Sea Day
Despite the sunshine this was a blustery day with very few people braving the decks. We managed to get beds at the Pavilion Pool – whose roof seemingly never opens.
There are lots of conversations on the ship about washing clothes and a multitude of apocryphal stories about fights between passengers in the self-service laundries, as well as tales of the ship’s laundry destroying or losing clothes. Cunard provide free self-service laundries, even supplying the soap powder. There’s one on almost every deck and although we’ve seen the occasional queue, we’ve managed our one and only wash without any waiting. But we’ve also found the ship’s laundry to be much better than anecdotes suggest. I knew from reading SafariGirl’s excellent blog from the 2017 World Cruise that – since we are doing the full cruise – we could expect the occasional offer from the laundry. And those offers have arrived, two opportunities to fill a laundry bag with up to 20 items and have them all washed and pressed for $40 US Dollars. About £1.41 to have a pair of trousers washed and pressed is very reasonable and we shall not be fretting or queuing at the self-service rooms on this trip.
26th and 27th Cape Town
We dawdled along for most of yesterday and then sailed at a furious speed through the night with the ship rocking pretty severely as we left Namibia behind and rushed down the west coast of South Africa. But the Bridge patently made some miscalculation because – despite the overnight rush – we arrived late in Cape Town and weren’t docked until after nine, more than two hours late. The Captain was quick to blame the South African Authorities and claimed the fault lay with the Pilot Service which have all its staff a breakfast break between eight and nine. Had we been on time that would have been irrelevant. But we weren’t and the breakfast break added to the delay.
We had a long wait in the Theatre waiting to be called through SA immigration and then onto our coach for Stellenbosch. There was much grumbling and it was a reminder to us of the irritation of hanging around before and during excursions and why we book relatively few of them. Eventually, we got away and hour and a half late. But we had a great day. First we visited the Neethlingshof Vineyard where we given a tour before tasting six wines including an excellent Pinotage. I bought four bottles of a very pleasing Sauvignon Blanc, deciding that its attractive price – around £4.00 a bottle – made it worthwhile to pay the $20 corkage charge at dinner (the cheapest White in the dining room being about $37).
After the vineyard we travelled to Stellenbosch, which we had not visited previously. It was delightful. We had an excellent and inexpensive lunch at a modest but attractive cafe restaurant. We sat outside on a shady terrace and had Cape Malay Chicken Curry and kebabs and drank Savannah Cider (much enjoyed at home in Gourmet Burger Kitchen in York) and Castle Lagers. We bought some rather large carved wooden figures of a giraffe and a cheetah for very little and Jan bought a beautiful handbag partly made from Springbok. After returning to the ship and exploiting our overnight stay we boarded a Cunard shuttle to the Victoria Waterfront (up to now Cunard are providing vast numbers of free shuttles). That had not improved in the nine years we have been away and it was rather Disneyesque. The shops were largely disappointing, all high-end international retailers in the new shopping centre. But we still managed to find a little tee shirt for our granddaughter to be. We had intended to eat at the waterfront but we were too tired and instead had room service back at the ship at about nine and watched Table Mountain disappear into the night.
We were up at seven on the morning of our second day in Cape Town and had breakfast in the formal dining room before finding our way out of the Port on foot. It took us little more than 15 minutes to find the central business district although it was still very quiet at that time but with a visible police presence. We were searching for the railway station and not long after ten, had tickets for the narrow gauge railway, which would take us to Simonstown. The tickets were ridiculously inexpensive: £4 each for an all day tourist pass.
The train was pretty basic although clean and we were somewhat conspicuous being not only older than everybody else but much whiter. There were no other white people amongst the 100 or 120 people in our crowded carriage. The train is slow and trundles at first down through the southern suburbs of Cape Town before emerging on the Cape Peninsula and then running along almost on the beach to Simonstown. We understood why it’s so often described as one of the most beautiful rail journeys in the world, albeit it was necessary to sit by an open window to enjoy the view. Confusingly for us, the train stopped at Fish Hoek a few miles from Simonstown and everyone got out. A very kind young woman came back to retrieve us and explain that the line ahead was blocked by sand and we had complete the journey by bus (which fortunately ran along a road right next to the railway line so we missed little of the view). Simonstown was very pretty, with a range of vintage shops in a Victorian parade and each with balustrades above. After a wander and a break at a lovely Patisserie, we left relatively early to negotiate the bus and train (again there was no notice to tell us the train wasn’t running the full journey, but we managed to find the bus and change to the train again at Fish Hoek). We were back at the ship in what was now a very windy Cape Town by five after repetitive failures to find Internet sufficiently fast to allow us to Facetime with our grandchildren. But this had been a great couple of days in this beautiful city and as the day ended I was swimming lengths in the pool as Table Mountain slowly turned into a silhouette.