John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Thursday 5 July 2018


15:15–19:00 Jet2 LS897 Manchester–Budapest
MS William Shakespeare

The alarm clock was set to sound at 7am, but we were awake before that and switched it off; Janet got up ca.7.15am;[i] and I showered after she vacated the bathroom, till a little before 8 o’clock. Packed computers, shaver, dressings, medications, etc., in my rucksack… The rucksack was lightened on this occasion because we’d booked a third item of luggage for stowing in the aircraft hold, a large bag with two wheels and a retractable handle (in addition to the two usual cases)… The taxi was booked for 10.00am, but it arrived ca.9.50am. It was a car, driven by Bill who has taken us on such journeys as these before. There was heavy traffic at some points en route; but we weren’t stopped by it, and only seldom slowed down. The route was, according to the notes I scribbled: “M180 — M18 — M62 — A627M — A627[ii] — M60 — M56”.
[i] Janet’s version of this is: “Excellent sleep. I thought I’d be very restless as I was so excited when I turned the light out. Heard Mr. B[lackbird] singing his socks off after around 3.30am. Up 7.15am to wall-to-wall sunshine. A hot day. Bliss.”
[ii] Cf. the notes from the return journey (12 July 2018), which add here “A663”.

We arrived, not long after noon, at the upper level of Terminal 1, where many or most of the check-in desks are; but there were signs directing us, via an elevator, to the level below for Jet2 check-in. I found that I could quite easily propel and steer the two four-wheeled suitcases, one either side of me; so it was Janet who pulled the extra bag on its two wheels. On the level below, there were self-service machines: one had to place one of the hold-luggage items on to a weighing platform; insert one’s boarding pass into a scanner; and finally attach the bar-coded tag, which was then printed out, to the item. Because I’d previously purchased carriage of an extra item of luggage, I had to place a second item of luggage on to the platform, and scan the same boarding pass. Then I placed the third item on, and scanned Janet’s boarding pass. All that was then necessary at the check-in desk was to place the luggage items on to the conveyer. The way to the long “snake” of people waiting to pass through the security scans was unfamiliar; but once I was through that, and had returned computers, camera and shaver into the rucksack, and had put back on belt, watch, etc., I found myself in familiar surroundings, e.g. the ever-annoying duty-free shop labyrinth you have to traverse to get to the boarding gates.[iii] I bought a Cornish pasty at The Pasty Shop. I’d been there once before, and had then included in my order an americano coffee, which I’d found to be so weak as to be almost unpotable; so this time I chose a Peroni Nastro Azzuro beer to drink. Unfortunately, this time, I found that I’d previously been spoiled by the much better pasties, filled with firm potato pieces and tasty chunks of beef, from the West Cornwall Pasty Company [on two previous journeys at Preston railway station], so I was disappointed by the relatively slimy and almost meat-free filling of the pasty with which I was served now. Janet didn’t fare any better. “I bought a bun from Prêt à Manger,” she wrote: “Disgusting! I ate it laboriously (it was incredibly chewy and tough — undercooked?), along with a couple of bananas.” Because there are putative links between cola drinks (Coca Cola, Pepsi, etc.) and osteoporosis, Janet has taken to drinking other soft drinks such as 7 Up Free; but she couldn’t find that there, so had to make do with Pepsi Max. We did this and that, then discovered that our flight, according to the illuminated information screen, was “boarding”; so we made our way to the indicated boarding gate. “Boarding”, however, proved to be airline mendacity for “people standing in a long line waiting for a long time while nothing is happening”. When we did get aboard, we occupied seats in the front row, left side; and were able to spread out because no-one had booked the third seat. The captain came on the intercom, saying that he would be “driving” today; then he added that traffic control had advised that take-off would be delayed an estimated ¼-hour, for a flight of 2hr 20min. This proved to be more like ½-hour: we took off at 15:42.

[iii] Janet’s version of this is: “We eventually completed all the usual procedures and made our way through The Father Ted Lingerie Department.”
 In the episode “A Christmassy Ted” of the sitcom Father Ted, priests Ted and Dougal, while Christmas shopping, accidentally wander into what turns out to be the largest lingerie section in Ireland; desperate to avoid scandal, they attempt to leave, but can’t find their way out.
 Janet added: “The worst thing about being in airports is those bloody cases being dragged behind people. Difficult to move without them catching your feet. Bastards.”
 The “bastards” are those people who think it’s smart to take great big, wheeled suitcases aboard as carry-on luggage, to avoid having to pay for excess hold luggage. They invariably dawdle in crowds, dragging these things behind them, making it almost impossible to pass without tripping over them.

Thursday 5 July 2018 — 15:59:54
Passing to the south of Spurn Point, to the north and east of which one could just make out hundreds of wind turbines [click on the image to enlarge]

Later, he came on to say that our estimated time of arrival was 19:00; but then that had to be revised to ca.19:05, because we had to go out of our way to go round a thunderstorm. We did in fact land at ca.19:05 (local time), and boarded a shuttle bus to take us to the terminal at 19:15. There was a long queue for passport control, though our wait at the baggage reclaim carousel wasn’t too long. I attached labels with our cabin number on them (“231”) to the luggage. Then we went out to the exit concourse, where after a bit of looking around we spotted a young woman, Eszter, with a “Riviera” sign. She ticked us off her list and pointed us to where others were waiting. Before long, she led the whole party out to where the coach was waiting. Janet boarded while I handed the luggage to the driver. It was warm outside, still in the mid-20s. There were many house martins wheeling and fluttering about. (I assume they were house martins; they appeared dark brownish and had white rumps, though they seemed more chunky than I’d expect for house martins.) We boarded the coach, and Eszter addressed us for part of the ca.40 minute journey to the ship. She taught us the word “Szia!” which means “Hi!” in Hungarian. I think[iv] she broached the subject of gratuities on this initial trip. At any rate, I scribbled this note:

per person
per day
Local guide

When the coach went over a bridge across the Danube she told us that we were now crossing from the Pest side to the Buda side. The coach seemed to go around a bit, though, before depositing us back near the river; and we went down a few steps, then boarded the long, low ship by means of a fairly long and therefore springy metal gangplank. It was about 9pm.

[iv] I think… — i.e. I’m not sure, as I write this. This account has been written over a long time, some of it almost contemporaneously, some several weeks later.
[v] I very quickly got to know the names “Eszter” (Riviera tour manager) and “Viktoria” (Riviera cruise director), so the writing of them in the note must have been done very early in the holiday. What I wrote here agreed with what was written on page 10 of the Travel Information, received on 28 June 2018:
It is customary aboard river cruise ships to give a gratuity at the end of a cruise, providing of course, you have received good service. We are often asked for guidance as to appropriate amounts and whilst we would emphasise that the amount you give is entirely discretionary, we would suggest between €8 and €12 per person per day. All gratuities received are divided equally between the crew on board.
If at your discretion, you wish to tip your local guides and drivers at the end of each tour, you may find the following guidelines useful:
Local guides €2 per person, per day
Drivers €1 per person, per day
If at the end of your cruise you wish to give a gratuity to your Riviera Travel Cruise Director and Tour Manager, this is entirely at your discretion.
See 11 July 2018 for more on gratuities.

“Welcome aboard, Thursday 5th July 2018”

We had to hand our passports over at reception and be issued with cabin key-cards. We went to the restaurant where a buffet was provided. All other dinners had formal courses and waiter service, but because people had arrived on different flights today at widely differing times that wasn’t feasible. Our luggage was portered aboard meanwhile, and taken to our cabin. I can’t remember what I had to eat, but drinks were printed on invoice slips after they were ordered: I had a 0.4ℓ glass of Veltins draught beer, the same strong-tasting, bitter pilsner as I’d had at The Parcel Yard in King’s Cross Station on our return from Israel on 5 November 2012, and Janet had two diet Coca Cola (21:08, 21:18 on the invoice slips). We went to the cabin ca.10pm. We found bathrobes in the wardrobe, and open-toed, mule-style slippers. Janet had thought to drop into bed, but decided to unpack the cases. I set up the Samsung computer on the dressing table. On the document “Welcome aboard, Thursday 5th July 2018” it said:

Esztergom Visit — Friday
…Whilst some of you may wish to walk up the hill to the Basilica, there is a Little Train available [generally referred to, in intercom announcements, as the “Noddy train”] — which needs to be booked today — it will take you around the town and up to the Basilica. … Should you wish to use the services of the Little Train in Esztergom please book with Viktoria or Eszter from Riviera before you retire tonight. The cost is €5 each, which is for the return journey — up the hill and back down to the ship.

We decided that we’d like to avail ourselves of the little train, so I went to reception to enquire. The receptionist told me, though, that I needed to go to the Riviera desk after breakfast tomorrow. That was at variance with what I’d read (“…before you retire tonight”), but there was no-one now at the Riviera desk. I also obtained a slip with Wi-Fi log-on details — two, in fact, for she asked me how many devices I had. I’ve never had device-specific Wi-Fi codes before. Although the slips said, “Price: €27.50”, the Wi-Fi was actually provided free — just as well, because it was very unsatisfactory. By that I’m not referring to the fact that internet access would drop out from time to time. That was a “given” for a river cruise. But it wasn’t a straightforward procedure to get logged on; and unlike with most Wi-Fi, where in subsequent sessions log-on occurs automatically, the rigmarole had to be gone through again at the start of a new computer session. I managed to get connected using the Asus netbook/tablet but not this evening with my old, everyday-use Samsung notebook computer.… Janet finished unpacking, then showered. Apart from setting up the computer, and arranging toiletries, shaver, toothbrush, etc., in the bathroom, my only unpacking duty was to find room for the cases under the beds. We finally got to bed ca.11.50pm.

As well as the three decks shown, there was also a sun deck above the “Hamlet Deck”. Our cabin was “231” at the far aft end of the middle deck. The accommodations, all middle to aft of the ship, occupied three decks, but the main forward lounge and the restaurant occupied only two decks, together the same height as the three. So the plan could perhaps more accurately have shown the restaurant as being on the lower deck. From our deck (middle or “Othello” deck), there was a central flight of steps up to a “mezzanine” level (as I shall call it), on which was the ship’s reception, to the right of which was the entrance to the lounge. Either side of that central flight were two flights of steps leading down to the restaurant. From the “mezzanine” level, there was also a flight of steps up to the upper deck, where, on the landing, was a desk used by Viktoria Sarkany, the Riviera Cruise Director, and Eszter Papp, the Riviera Tour Manager (the one who had met us at the airport).

View forward from the middle deck, showing, on the “mezzanine” level, the ship’s reception, and, below on either side, the restaurant

View starboard and aft from the “mezzanine” level, showing: (above, centre) the Riviera desk on the upper deck; (below, centre) the only WC for passenger use, i.e. that was not located in an individual’s cabin; and (above and below, right) the upper and middle deck corridors to passenger accommodations

[Friday 6 July 2018]

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