Haute cuisine on the high seas
By Tina Fox
We recently returned from a 3-week cruise from Liverpool to the Cape Verde Islands. Brrr! We certainly noticed the cold when we returned on 11 December.
We went with Fred Olsen on a special offer. They were not particularly places that we were dying to visit, but 3 weeks of warmth in November/December was very tempting.
We had a comfortable cabin with a terrace, though it was too cold to use it until we got down to Madeira. Even Portugal was somewhat chilly in November. The bed arrangement in the cabin was a bit cluttered and difficult, and the TV programmes never seemed to work as scheduled. But it had everything we needed, even bathrobes, binoculars and umbrellas. We had fresh flowers and fruit and afternoon canapés, but the latter were a disaster. First of all we had to fight to get veggie ones, and when we did we never found any we enjoyed in the 3 weeks.
We found in general that there were too many days totally at sea: 10 out of 20, which we found boring. Quoits, bingo, making sock monkeys, and talks about Judy Garland and Errol Flynn belonged to those in a much later age group than ours (we are only in our 60s). We did enjoy the port talks because they were well illustrated and the speaker very entertaining, but would have liked more in-depth talks about the history and folklore of the areas that we were visiting. Similarly the evening entertainment, mainly cabaret/variety was also not to our taste. We would have really liked a cinema and some theatre, though the comedian and the flute player were okay.
There was endless food on the ship – two or more courses for breakfast; three courses for lunch; and up to four for the evening meal. And if that was not enough, there was morning coffee with biscuits; afternoon tea with cakes and sandwiches; and a later supper club, which we never made it to. I was amazed that I only put on 2lb over the 3 weeks; all that walking around the deck and playing table tennis must have done some good. The vegetarian selection was excellent and there were also gluten-free and vegan options. Everything was carefully marked, both on the buffet selection and on the printed menu, so even desserts were marked as suitable or otherwise.
The evening menu also had at least three vegetarian dishes, so it was usually easy to find something you liked. The vegetarian options included tofu and Quorn, so not just the usual endless cheese dishes. Meals included vegetable moussaka, tagliatelle in cream sauce with Quorn, mushroom and lentil vol au vents, cheese and vegetable strudel, roasted vegetable tortilla, vegetable sausages in giant Yorkshire pudding, tex mex Quorn chilli, various quiches and tarts, stir-fried vegetables with tofu, French tarragon potato pie, filled aubergine
roll with spaghetti (delicious!), paella, filo basket with mushroom ragout, carrot and courgette croquettes, mille feuille a la nicoise and many other interesting dishes.
In addition there were always fruit and/or salad starters, and a wonderful array of soups including a lot of tasty chilled soups. Definitely no complaints from either of us about the food, which is pretty unusual.
We set sail on Sunday afternoon and arrived at our first port of call, Leixoes in Portugal on Wednesday. Here we had opted for a half day trip, which included sailing on the Douro river; a coach tour of the pretty town of Porto (lovely architecture); and a port tasting at a local cellar.
Our next stop on the Friday was Funchal in Madeira where we stayed in port overnight, and which was considerably warmer. Because we were in Madeira earlier in the year we did not need to go on any trips but the ship was anchored conveniently for the city centre so it was a very pleasant visit. (Note: we always finding eating out in Portuguese areas to be much easier than in Spanish ones, other than excellent Barcelona).
Two days at sea followed; nice and warm as we got closer to Cape Verde. And then we called at Mindelo, our first island in that archipelago. We did not find this very exciting – it was described as ‘undeveloped’ but in fact we found it dirty and a bit menacing. I was unhappy at all the really thin stray dogs that no one seemed to care for.
The next day we visited the second island, Praia, and went on a 7-hour discovery tour. This was altogether different from Mindelo – beautiful verdant scenery, reminiscent of South America, plenty of wildlife – monkeys, butterflies, dragonflies, egrets, kingfishers – and lovely flowers. The included lunch was limited for vegetarians, but we managed and it was worth it for the scenery.
The next day was again a sea day, but this time we got a bonus: schools of flying fish. What a lovely sight!
Following a further sea day we arrived at Santa Cruz, Tenerife where we had booked for whale watching trip. But to our dismay, it was cancelled and too late for us to join a trip the gardens, which we had fancied.
We did not find it to our taste, but there were some nice buildings, and I can recommend the Museo de Belles Arts where the staff were very friendly. It was quite permissible to play with and handle some of the tactile modern art sculptures. Because this island is Spanish, we did not find it easy to eat and ended up with pizza for lunch as usual.
Next day we were in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The ship docked close to the modern centre, but we had a disappointing start. It was Sunday, and we hoped to go to the old town part. The bus driver would not let us on without pre-purchase of a ticket, and none of the ticket offices were open! However a short walk took us to a wonderful museum – Elder Museum of Science and Technology – which was free and extremely interactive. We spent a few happy hours there, and there was also a good craft market to amble around. We had a good meal in the restaurant at the front of the museum. For a change the vegetarian choice was okay and it was really fresh.
The next day was port again, this time Lanzarote. We had a great trip to see the volcanoes; very dramatic and a pretty island not spoilt by high-rise buildings. We actually saw dolphins from the deck after leaving port, so a great day all round.
After a further day at sea we arrived at Lisbon. You only truly appreciate how hilly Lisbon is when you are at the port looking up at the hilly streets and buildings overhead! We had a wander up the hills to some lovely buildings including a convent, and found a veggie friendly café with excellent wifi.
Later on we walked along the front to a grand square. It was a very pleasant day, altogether a bit warmer than on our way out via Portugal.
Our final visit the next day was to Vigo in Northern Spain. This was not particularly exciting: the port was chosen for its proximity to various attractions, but we did feel like another shore trip. However, it was a pleasant place to walk before we spent the next day or so at sea.
It was a rather choppy last day but we did get the bonus of seeing lots of dolphins in the Irish Sea, so that somewhat compensated. Throughout the cruise we were fortunate with the weather at sea and had wonderful sunrises and sunsets – we certainly missed them on our return.
All too soon we were back in Liverpool for the long drive home. No more lovely sunrises and sunsets!
I would definitely cruise again, but perhaps wait until we are older for Fred Olsen. Most of the passengers were considerably older than us, and also we would choose a cruise with fewer sea days.