A big part of being a story teller is experiencing stories and adventures, learning about other cultures and meeting new people. All of those experiences go into one big melting pot along with all the books and films to merge together and mix themselves up until the original sources of each part are barely recognisable. While I spend about 48-50 weeks of the year splurging out these ideas and my thoughts on characters of all shapes and sizes it means there’s a few weeks left where I do the opposite and go experience for myself.

This year my fella and I had the new experience of a cruise, and here’s the ship we called home for a while (<—-) the MSC Opera. (this photo was taken from aboard one of the lifeboat/tender’s the main ship carried, just outside St Peter Port on Guernsey). Our cabin was one somewhere near the middle of the ship in that row of windows just above the lifeboats on the side. We had an outside cabin but not a balcony room as they were a little out of our price range.

As this is the first cruise I was on, I didn’t really know what to expect but my cabin was reasonable and very clean and tidy. It also regularly came with a sort of towel origami and we couldn’t help but take a picture of the cuteness. This is just one of the many examples of the way the staff tried to make things that little bit special.

Our waitor at dinner was lovely (as was the head waiter, who handled my allergies) and we met some great people who shared our table of eight every evening. I think it helped to make the evenings the part of the day I looked forward to most. Getting to know new people is always something I enjoy and we had a brilliant set of couples to talk to over dinner.

Dinner was almost always followed by the evening show, which was another highlight for me. On the first night a very talented male singer faultlessly sung his way through Music of the Night from Phantom of the Opera, possibly one of my favourite songs ever, and a few days later did a rendition of Nessun Dorma that had my arms break out in goosebumps. On top of that there was flamenco and some great classical pieces from a whole array of talented entertainers.

If the cruise’s entertainment wasn’t enough there was also excursions most days, and it really did feel like these were just extras. There was so much going on already that you could have stayed on the boat if you wanted and not gone to see the cities on the ship’s tour. They felt a lot like the icing on the cake rather than to main event. although of themselves they were still great too, and visitng so many places meant there was always a little something to find every day. Above to the left is a photo of a replica Dutch galleon recreated by the homeless and unemployed in Amsterdam. I didn’t know whether to be more excited that it was an old ship or that they’d given the task to people who needed it most, but it was the first of many discoveries and moments that made the holiday special.

No holiday of mine is complete without at least one castle, but in 7 trips ashore, I managed to find a castle and two hillforts. The picture to the right is St George’s Castle in Lisbon and was still quite intact considering how old some parts of it where. While we were in Lisbon it got up to 29c so we were very glad to find a few shady courtyards inside, but we also clambered all over the walls, finding ourselves allowed up some very tiny staircases that would definitely have been shut off if the castle was in the UK for health and safety reasons.

In Spain a very pleasant chap explained lots of the local history of the hill fort (Castello) in Vigo and several naval battles that had happened in the nearby bay. This led to the very fortunate realisation that I knew of the naval battle because I’d studied it at some point and was getting to actually see the location it happened it. Always a fun thing to discover.

Finally no adventure on foreign soil would be complete without taking in the views from at least a few places, so here’s one of the better photos. It was taken from one of the highest points in Lisbon after walking all the way up there (we wanted to take the tram but found ourselves almost there before we’d figured the tram system out). There was also the few cases of having to point at drinks and menu items in cafes and pubs to communicate with the local staff when they didn’t speak English and our Spanish was sadly lacking. Although we did end well, managing to communicate with our french waitress in Le Havre well enough to order the right quantity of chips and drinks for our party and get the internet code.

I can also say that the cruise left me very inspired and during the last few days I found myself coming up with a plot idea I really like the sound of and some characters I think might come back to nag at me. It’s only a standalone novel but with a hint of the paranormal and more than a little romance it should make for some fun writing. At the least it’s worth considering going on another cruise to see if I can inspire a sequel or two for it, because of course, any excuse for another cruise.