NI parkruns: Waterworks

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Waterworks parkrun, in North Belfast, was the first one in Norn Irn, and attracts around 200 runners every week, making it one of the province’s biggest. It has taken me a while in my parkrun career to visit it, only because for a long while there were ongoing works to the park, meaning they weren’t using their “official” course. And if anyone actually READS this blog with the intention of parkrun touristing, then I’d like to describe the route they’d be running!

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On the morning I chose, I was very lucky to have my personal paparazzi in the shape of my husband with me, so you’ve him to thank for the many photos of MEEEEE that appear in this one.

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Access:

The park is located just off the Antrim Road. There’s pedestrian access beside the children’s play-park, but I didn’t see any car-park. So if arriving by car, find a safe place to park your vehicle on the road. There are basic loos in the shed/ hut beside where everyone gathers.

Crowd:

I was told to ask for Matt, who’s the brother of Wallace’s event director, and has done a staggering 31 different events, at the time of my run! He and his wife bade me a warm welcome, and I fell into an easy conversation with another runner who was admiring my shiny new red 50 shirt, and wanted to know about the sizing. There weren’t too many dogs or buggies running, but there’s every range of ability represented, and everyone is enthusiastically cheered over the finish line.

Start

Course:

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Lying in the shadow of Cavehill, and with views over Belfast, round a couple of duckponds full of swans, geese, and other waterfowl, this is a really attractive course. It’s on tarmac paths the whole way, there’s one sharp steep hill, but it’s over quickly, and you only have to do it twice!

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The start is quite narrow, especially with so many participants, so it helps to take it easy and adopt a rolling start approach. The path widens out as you pass what will be the finish zone, so there’s a good opportunity to overtake at that point. My biggest issue was trying to stop Minnie chasing all those birds!

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Gear:

Oh, I’m still enjoying showing off my new 50 Tshirt! There’s a special glance and nod exchanged between anyone wearing the Tribesports tops, we’ve waiting a loooong time for this moment, and we’re damn well going to enjoy it. My Adidas shoes with the yellow/white socks were a good combination, and my Garmin and music all worked perfickly.
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Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

I thought I was well on track to get round all 20 of the NI parkruns before I do my 100th. And now I hear there’s going to be another one starting at Stormont next month. Ah well, the more the merrier. As MJ reassured me, “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”.

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Time:

I was reasonably happy with 26 something. In position 102 I made it into the top half, though they’ve got a lot of fit 50 year old females in that part of town, and I was 4th in my age category! One of those was the 1st female, though, and I was more than content with being 14th female.

List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

parkrun red T-shirt

Now, any Star Trek fan knows that wearing a red shirt means you’re likely to be the first to be eaten by a monster/ zapped by a doom-ray/ assimilated by a Borg. But for parkrunners, the red T-shirt means you’ve been dedicated enough to run 50 times. In real terms, that’s at least a year of parkrunning. These are highly valued and treasured items, some people even go so far as to frame theirs.

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At Wallace parkrun in 2014, I came second in the points table, and Gillian and Liz, who came 1st and 3rd, were neck and neck with me on number of parkruns completed. Then I went and broke my ankle.

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They went ahead and earned their 50 shirt, and I applauded and cheered from my volunteer position, and eventually in August I was able to get back to running and do my own 50th run.

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Except there was a hiccup in production of the shirts.

We waited anxiously for news – as each Saturday passed by, more people earned the right to a red shirt, but none were forthcoming.

It was well into 2015 when the new sponsors Tribesports got up to speed, and eta’s starting being discussed for the delivery of the shirts. This eta kept being extended and extended – I told my husband to stop asking me about my T-shirt, it would get here in the fullness of time!

It was mid-July, and after sending an email to chase it up, that the much-anticipated parcel arrived.

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I was excited.

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Very excited!

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Couldn’t wait to try it on!!

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For the record, the sizing is on the generous side.

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And so, one sunny July morning, in my home location of Wallace, I was finally able to run in my hard-earned, long-awaited item.

I accessorised the moment, of course, with a matching cloak for Minnie, and fancy nail-art.

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During the run, 2 other guys in the new shirts passed me, gave a thumbs-up and said “that’s a photo op, 3 new red shirts together!”

The shirt is good quality, feels light and comfortable on, and is easy to wash.
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Reader, I cried on the way home, I was so full of emotion.

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Treasures of the Med: Rome

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Eye on the Tiber

Well this got off to a bad start. I had blisters on my feet from where I’d been dancing in the wrong shoes last night. Also a badly bruised knee from when I’d fallen over dancing in the wrong shoes. And a massive hangover, having drunk enough to decide that dancing in those shoes was a good idea in the first place!

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Palais de Justice

But we were booked onto the Rome on Your Own trip, plus had tickets booked in advance for a guided tour of the Vatican museums, which included the Sistine Chapel.

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barriers

The journey takes about an hour and a half, but is very traffic dependent – Rome’s congestion is pretty bad. It’s a breathtakingly stunning city, but the Tiber is a bit smelly. The bus dropped us at the Palais de Justice, and we set off to wander during the morning. Found a little cafe which did shakkerata coffee – 2 for €5. We had strolled through a beautiful open Plazzo, including a cooling off step inside St Agnes church. There seem to be a lot of beggars around, sadly I had no coins to give the chap sitting on the church steps.

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Crowded square

We weren’t aiming to get to the Coliseum, and the Trevi Fountain was closed for repairs, so we just ambled. Through an open air market, full of lovely fresh veg, including courgettes with their flowers attached. We checked a few menus of places for lunch, and eventually settled on a pizza place which was doing pizzas with the courgette flowers I’d admired earlier. We grabbed a taxi to the Vatican, agreeing a price of €8 in advance.

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Rome with a view


Sadly, we should have said “Vatican Museum”, as the entrance to it is waaaaaay round the corner, and it was a hot day for walking. No matter, our magic ticket bypassed all the massive queues, and we were soon admiring the gift shop offerings while waiting for our tour to commence at 2.

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surveying the square

The tour itself was interesting, but at 2 hours long, we were getting a bit anxious about catching the bus back. So we passed up on the opportunity to see inside St Peters Baslica. If you wanted to really save time, you could book the guided tour (€16 each), but then either slip away from the tour guide, or just make your own way into the museum.

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facing St Peters


I was maybe not as overwhelmed as I expected to be by the Sistine ceiling. It’s an odd place – still a holy place so everyone is warned to have shoulders covered, no hats, no photos and no talking. And despite all this, there are many people breaking these rules. But by that point I think I was suffering form Vatican fatigue, having seen many beautiful statues, pictures, tapestries, sculptures, engravings, tromp l’oieul ceilings, Raphael murals…..

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Rafael in the corner

There were plenty of taxis in the square outside, but at first they wanted to charge €20 to go back to the bus stop. We negotiated them down to 10. Had time for an ice cream before getting on the bus – amarena flavour, €5 for 2. The journey home was long, and the bus was having gear issues – at one point I thought we’d have to get out an push!

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Courtyard

The Dream was sailing at 7 pm this evening, and the view was straight out of teh brochure – heading off into the sunset, G&T in hand. However, this meant we were later for dinner, so we didn’t get our usual table. The staff looked after us well, though.

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armless statue

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Painted ceiling

Michael Jackson tribute show in the evening – very moving beginning with a song called “Gone too soon”. My favourite seat at the end of an aisle up on deck 9 allowed me to nip out in between numbers to admire the sun sinking into the sea. Later, I admired the big golden moon, and the milky pathway it made on the water’s surface.

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curved walkway

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Pine cone

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faces

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colourful ceiling

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Big bowl

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Domed ceiling

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Trompe l’oeuil ceiling

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Corridor of maps

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Mural

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Real life inside the Vatican

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Terrific tiles

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Stairway

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Swiss guard

parkruns: Bushy Park, London

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Every parkrunner knows the story of how the whole thing began, 10 years ago, with 13 brave souls in Bushy Park. Since then, it has grown by leaps and bound, and now this event regularly attracts over 1,000 runners.

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I was in London for my daughter’s graduation performance, so it was already a memorable and emotional weekend. I was staying with my best friend in Feltham, and I’d previously run at Crane Park, round the corner from her. But the mecca-like Bushy is only 3 miles away, and she quickly grasped how important it is for any serious parkrun tourist to tick off their list. So I am enormously grateful to her for getting up early on a bright and sunny Saturday morning to drive me.

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It was an astonishing sight as we drove down the main avenue, watching runners gather from all directions. Red 50 and black 100 shirts there were a-plenty, and I was trying out my Jog Lisburn sleeveless vest for size. I STILL haven’t got my 50 one – my profile says I ordered it on 2nd August 2014, but here we are nearly a year later.
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Course:
The start is close to the Diana fountain, and pre-run brief is given using a microphone and speakers. It’s a nice wide start point, so there was very little hemming in. The surface is a mixture of grass and sandy paths, and it covers one lap round the park, past ponds, under trees, with the main hazard being deer and their poo.
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Gear:
I couldn’t get my headphones to work. When I switched them on, they cheerily told me they were “pairing!” but couldn’t seem to find my phone. So I was running with no music, which always makes the run seem so much longer.
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Dealing with that number of runners makes the finish activities more difficult – into 2 funnels, I was given a letter to hold. When I reached the head of the queue, they held our funnel and let through the other one, until the next letter was reached, at which point we could proceed and collect our finish token, and then queue for scanning. This was remarkably efficient, though as you can imagine there’s a fair bit of work sorting out that number of tokens!
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Time:
My time wasn’t great – I’d imbibed a fair bit of wine during the graduation celebrations, running on grass is slower, I’d no music, it was warm….I did have a laugh out loud when I read the official email results:

“Congratulations on completing your 88th parkrun and your 1st at Bushy parkrun today. You finished in 841st place and were the 268th female out of a field of 1035 parkrunners and you came 29th in your age category VW50-54″

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Ah well.

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Then came another new experience, the queue of cars leaving the car park!Some people have a coffee at the little wooden hut beside the car park, some go to The Pheasantry. We went a little further afield and I tucked into Eggs Benedict in Carluccios in Teddington. Lovely!
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List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

NI parkruns: Larne (Carnfunnock)

This was a bit of an adventure.
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It didn’t start well – after being lovely and sunny all week, the day dawned with rain showers.

11659292_437022583165918_7657630461188008079_nOn the plus side, this meant I could take Minnie with me, as it has been too hot for running-with-dogs.
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Access:
I’d looked at the course description, and a yellow dot seemed to indicate the middle of the Country Park, so that’s where I went first. I found some loos, and could see various “run route” arrows about the place, but no actual runners. A boxer dog appeared and said hello to Minnie – its owner appeared, and as he was wearing a sporty top I asked him if he knew where the start of the parkrun was. He did, actually, and it was a mile back down the road, in a car park I’d passed 10 minutes ago! I’d even seen the parkrun banner on the fence. Doh! By now it was 9.18, and I was worried about making the start line on time. I pulled into the car-park and to my dismay there were no spaces left, apart from disabled ones which I refuse to use. I wound down my window and asked a passing runner if there was any other parking nearby, and she suggested either using the centre of the car-park, or the grass verge. I opted for the latter, as did a white car who pulled in beside me.
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Crowd:
It was a busy morning, as a local couch to 5k group were making their graduation run. Typical crowds are in the 60s, but today there were 92! My friends and fellow letsdoallthenornirnparkruns peeps, Claire and Caroline, had been here last week, and had given high praise to the volunteers, who were very helpful and cheery.
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Course:
The car park is at sea level. This can only mean one thing – lots of hills! I lost count of how many laps and twists we did, but there are plenty of arrows and marshalls about, and I was never in doubt about what way to go. The start is along a narrow path, and it’s easy to get hemmed in here, so if you want a fast start, make sure you’re near the front. The views of the sea through the trees are lovely (or would be on a less misty day!) and teh route also incorporates some challenging sharp turns, as well as passing the back of the toilet block. Twice. The finish stretch is back along the long straight narrow long path (did I mention it was long?), and there’s some good cheering and support at the final section. Scanning takes place inside the Sea Cadets Hall.
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Post run:
Wow, I’ve never seen as good a table of post-run goodies! Sandwiches, cake, buns, shortbread, biscuits…I suspect this was for the C25k grads, who had rather lovely T shirts and medals to be proud of. But it was very much appreciated – thank you!
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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:
I’m a big fan of X-factor winner Matt Cardle, and he appeared on this morning’s playlist, singing “Run for your life…you’ll get there in time” which was the assurance I needed after going to the wrong start point.

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Time:
It was hilly, it was rainy, I wasn’t going flat out, so I was pretty content with a 27:27.
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And then what happened?:
After enjoying my tea and sandwich, while clapping a “well done”ing the later runners, I went back to my car. Which was blocked in by a burger van. I could see the driver was still in it, so I sorted Minnie out with some water, towelled her down and put her in teh boot before approaching him to ask if he could pull forward so that I could get out.
“You’re not supposed to park there.” he said. yes I know, I explained my circumstances, and that I didn’t want to take up a disabled space.
“I usually park there, but I was a bit late this morning..” Ermmm, you’re losing my goodwill here now – I’m not supposed to park in a not-legal spot, because YOU usually do?
“I’ve lost about 15 sales to bikers lookin’ for burgers!” Well, I’m sorry about that, but again YOU were late, I didn’t have my crystal ball with me to know that I was in your spot, I’m only a visitor here, and unlikely to return if that’s the attitude, frankly!

I do realise that Scrubs Grub is nothing to do with parkrun, but it did put me in bad form, so much so that I didn’t go back and get more pictures of the route, I just wanted to get home. This was a 70 mile round trip for me, after all.
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List of all the parkruns I’ve completed.

Treasures of the Med: Sorrento

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Sorrento.

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Bay of Naples in the morning sun


This was the only port of call where we’d have to use a tender to get ashore, so the advice was to avoid peak times between 8.30 and 9.30, to allow those going on excursions to get away. I’d planned to go to an abs class in the gym at 9, but R was bouncing with excitement at the sight of the place.

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View from the deck

It is a stunning aspect – little coloured buildings perched atop a steep cliff, in the Bay of Naples with Vesuvius watching serenely above. So I did my own little abs workout at 8.30, and we were ready to depart just after 9. There was no big queue to board the tender, but there was a bit of a wait then until it was full. There was quite a noticeable swell on the sea, and I was glad I had some ginger sucky sweets with me.

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Sorrento perched on a cliff

It was a bit choppy, and getting in and out of the boat was a nerve-wracking experience. We’d agreed that we would take the lift up to the top level rather than climbing all those stairs. But the harbour was very busy, a Capri car-ferry just unloading, and in the confusion I didn’t see any signs for the lift, and so we ended up climbing. It’s not THAT far, but it is steep, and not recommended for anyone unfit.

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hairpin bends

It was an aimless wandering morning – we had a look at the Byzantine style cathedral, and had shakkerata and mini canola cakes in a lovely pastry shop.

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street cafe


Sorrento is big into lemons – lemon soaps, lemon flavoured cakes, limoncello, we were even presented with a bag with a lemon in it as we got off the boat.
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Sorrento harbour

The mini-train was fully booked, so we reserved a place for 1 o’clock and found a spot with free wifi for lunch. I had noodles with prawn and courgettes, and we enjoyed an ice cream later on in the afternoon.

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mad traffic


We ambled through the little back streets, barely wide enough to let 2 people walk abreast, until we found, after a bit of map-consulting, the way to the lift. €1 one way. The walk along the shore back to the boat was a little disappointing, I expected a nicer beach. But it IS volcanic, so black and rocky goes with the territory.
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viewpoint

We stopped for refreshments at a cafe right on the harbour, where I felt duty bound to try a limoncello.

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tiny backstreets


The show that night was extracts from Cats, Miss Saigon, Hairspray and Lion King, and was well done. I HAD been intending to get an early night, but got carried away by the live music on the deck….

Treasures of the Mediterranean: First stop Sardinia

This is our 3rd cruise, all with Thomson.

Leaving early in the morning is a headache. A 5 am flight means being at the airport at 3 am, and a taxi at 2 am, prompting the consideration whether it’s worth while going to bed at all! For me, even an hour’s sleep is worth taking, so I’d had an early 9 pm bed time, and was feeling reasonably human at that hour of the day.

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Luggage checked in, with kgs to spare, we easily made it airside, where R hovered around the Burger King waiting for it to open. The flight was on time, there was no issue with getting to seats, though we were seated right at the back of the plane, and so had to put our hand luggage a few rows forward. Plus side, we were first to leave the plane when we landed in sunny Palma.

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Ah, Palma! I do love it, but so do many other travellers, and the airport is consequently rather large and not entirely user friendly. The sign board said our luggage was at track 19, and we could only see tracks 1-6. A bit of persuasion and reminding that we were ON HOLIDAY, and we did in time locate the luggage track, and our bags.

Helpful Thomson rep sent us to the coach, which took us to the boat. Boarding was very smooth, a welcome soft drink and some accompanying music helped to create the right mood.

We’d arrived each in need of an essential item – I wanted wedge sandals, and R had come without sunglasses. I remembered that the port at Palma had a shopping centre pretty close by, and checked my directions with Anna on reception, who was very helpful (and wanted to see any shoes I found!)

We dandered over to the shopping mall – the weather was HOT and I actually enjoyed being inside the air conditioned mall. Shoes were to be had a-plenty, and I had to restrict myself to just the one pair. Sunglasses were a bit more elusive, but we did eventually find a suitable emporium to satisfy his requirements.
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Back on board, took one of the “get to know the ship” tours, which I have to say wasn’t THAT informative – I specifically asked about getting into the Broadway Theatre from deck 9, and was given TOTALLY the wrong info. But no matter, I was starting to get my bearings.
Sailaway was at 11 pm – a late sailing, off into the night leaving the necklace of city lights fading into the distance.
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Sunday was our only full day at sea. This means a Fight for the Sunbeds, but I was up at 8 am to claim 2 beds near the deck pool and jacuzzi. I happily put the day in between dance classes, jigsawing in the oasis of calm inside Browsers corner, and working out how to get to the gym. Dinner was the only formal night of the cruise, where you could have your photo taken with the Captain. R wasn’t keen – we went for our usual table with Jesus and Ulysses in the Orion restaurant at 6 pm, and after that I went solo to do the schmoozing with the Captain bit. I have to say it was interesting being introduced to all the people who make the ship work – engineers housekeeping, restaurant and bar, shopping, shore trips…

Monday – at last we sighted land, in Sardinia. As the ship approached I was in awe of the misty green hillsides, and a real sense of somewhere new…
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Linda’s rule of cruises is to look out for the phrase “gateway to….” which translates as “this is a big industrial port, and you should Get Away form here as soon as you can”. With that in mind, we’d booked a shore excursion along the Costa Smeralda.
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Sardinia is remarkably quiet. At this time of year, the roads weren’t too bad, though apparently in July in August it is hot and crowded with Romans trying to escape the heat and crowds of Rome.
The tour took us to a little town beloved by the beautiful people, full of designer shops and tiny streets. We discovered the joy that is “cafe shakkerata” – an espresso blended with crushed ice until creamy, served in a martini glass.

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We also had an ice cream and admired the crystal blue waters, the fancy boats, and designer shops.
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This was a very short stop – we were back on the boat for 2. I’d booked a wine tasting experience with Ferdie, the head wine waiter, an animated and knowledgeable Chinese chap who claims Jilly Goolden was his mentor and sponsor. The most important part of the lesson was to look for the punt – the indentation underneath the bottle.

I also had a fun learning casino session for £5, which reminded me how much I enjoy blackjack.

Nest stop: Sorento.

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