Never to walk in anyone’s shadows

What does that mean? Where does that come from? Well it is a lyric from a song that resonates very much with me. In the two weeks away cruising, we got used to seeing one, two or even three acts each day and there were a number of really good singers in particular. Being September, and not a school holiday period, the demographics of the passengers meant that there was an emphasis on older songs and the soul singers really delivered. I like most kinds of music and soul songs like Stand By Me, Tracks of My Tears and Reach Out (I’ll Be There) are just wonderful when sung well. But this lyric comes from a song written by Michael Masser and Linda Creed and originally recorded by George Benson for the 1977 Muhammad Ali biopic ‘The Greatest’. Later, the song was recorded by Whitney Houston. It appears on her 1985 debut eponymous album.

Linda Creed wrote the lyrics in the midst of her struggle with breast cancer. The words describe her feelings about coping with great challenges that one must face in life, being strong during those challenges whether you succeed or fail, and passing that strength on to children to carry with them into their adult lives. Furthermore, you have to learn to love yourself before you can deal with those challenges, and look forward rather than back, not dwelling on mistakes in the past (that probably no-one else even remembers). Creed eventually passed away in April 1986 at the age of 37; at the time her song was a massive international hit by Houston.

Last week, as the lead singer of Sol Play described this story in introducing the song, “The Greatest Love of All”, I could sense her voice breaking and I could hear the emotion. She was doing a set of songs by divas and then delivered a quite superb version. The full lyrics are here:

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be

Everybody’s searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me

[Chorus:]
I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be

[Chorus]

And if, by chance, that special place
That you’ve been dreaming of
Leads you to a lonely place
Find your strength in love

Today was a walk during which I could not get this song out of my head and it was one of the most thoughtful walks I have ever done. I am not one to love a song simply because of its story and I did buy Whitney Houston at the time, the album that is. I have to say that I didn’t know the full story and it has pulled a string somewhere in my body. Walking has helped me to overcome some (non life-threatening) demons in my head myself and it has been so vital to have Pammy and Matt really support me. I know I have always been punching above my weight with my Pammy – she accepts my geekiness and social awkwardness and it is funny the way she often manages to drop the fact that I walked from Lands End to John O’Groats into conversations with complete strangers in order to bring me in………..

13 miles today. About as much as I ought to manage. A little bit of achiness lately and I’m not sure whether it is anything to get worried about. It felt chilly in the shade and, just for once, I was looking for the sunny side of the street when I could. On a side note, I really must change the ‘Home’ and ‘About’ sections of this blog – they relate to times very much in the past. I can see the posts and areas that blog readers view and note that a couple still accessed the just giving page from the very long walk – I can’t see who these readers are, by the way, and I think that is information that I don’t really need to know. Confidentiality is my game, after all.

More Spanish steps in Cadiz

The penultimate stop on our Mediterranean fortnight was today, Wednesday, in Cadiz. We have turned for home and are at what is either “the oldest city in the world” or “one of the oldest cities in Western Europe”, depending on which of the cruise publicity sheets you decide to read. There is nothing too spectacular about this port, and many passengers decided to take the 80 mile excursion to Seville. On the grounds that there would have to be very limited time in the “orange capital of Western Europe” once that coach journey had been negotiated, we decided to explore Cadiz.

The material was right – there is nothing exceptional here but we did go into an interesting museum dedicated to the flamenco dancer and singer Mariana de Cadiz, more an exhibition of dresses, jewellery, photos, press cuttings and even a video clip on constant repeat. It was tricky to make out too much about her, even whether she was dead or still alive, given everything was in Spanish, a language of which I know precious little. That’s one for Google and Wikipedia when I get home and a WiFi connection.

I am aware that I have moaned a lot about WiFi while we have been away but, given the prices paid for cruising, it is not unreasonable to expect slightly better deals than 55p per minute or a bargain £35 for 100 minutes, or a super-bargain £62.50 for 250 minutes. Plus a £2.50 charge for the first connection. Instead, I have just waited until picking up free WiFi that is sometimes available at cafés on shore. Yep, skinflint, if you must but there is an old Chinese proverb that Confucius, he say, man who waste money don’t have money to waste.

So today was a nice walk around the peninsular, again dipping into the shade as the temperature rose to the mid twenties. Cadiz is almost the first line of defence for Spain against invasion from the south and there are a few castles and battlements in evidence. There is also a considerably long beach backing onto the Mediterranean that you can sort of see in the distance……

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The shopping centre near the ship is bustling and more market-like than some of the places we have been to, and the buildings a striking white that is typical of many Spanish towns. We walked a total of what was probably about 7 miles and very pleasant it was too. Next walk may well be Sunday after we are back home in Blighty and no doubt cooler climes than in the last few days here. I have a busy couple of weeks when I go back to work and it has sometimes been hard to forget that.

Another day, another scorcher

Hard on the aching heels of the sweltering walk in Rome yesterday, we arrived this morning in Ajaccio, the former capital of the French island of Corsica. Not quite a hard ‘j’ and not quite a silent ‘j’, before you ask.

With a relatively short time on shore, the necessity of a tender boat and temperatures touching 29 degrees Centigrade, a long walk was out of any question that anyone could come up with. Ajaccio is beautiful in weather like this.

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But we set out to follow the western shore northward for about as far as we could see from the first steps on solid ground. It was hot enough for us to seek any shade we could, like the goat and two donkeys in this enclosure. But how did the goat get up there?

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Once we had got well past the confines of the street map we had, we turned inland and rattled up more distance as we walked along streets full of shops and cafés. The main square is the Place de Gaulle and the monument of the former French President on horseback with four of his mates around him.

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Around 7 miles walking, I reckon. Bloomin’ hot again but there is a day at sea tomorrow and a chilling out day.

Rome comforts

A scorcher in Rome with temperatures nudging over the 30 Centigrade mark. For once, we had a good length of time in the city of choice for Azura, but Rome was not viewed in a day. There is just too much to see, even when given six hours to walk wherever we wanted. Pammy had never previously been to Rome and I had only been there for work, so we were really looking forward to it.

It was an hour and a half coach trip from the port of Civitavecchia, translating literally as “old city”. Pammy and I decided just to see as many different sights as possible, knowing that entry to any of the most popular would take up most of the available time. It was a good effort by us and we were soaked in sweat and our legs and feet aching by the time we got back to the meeting point for the coach in the late afternoon, where the sun was still beating down and shade was at a premium. It is hard to estimate how far we walked but, for those of you who know Rome, we walked from the centre of the city, near the Arch of Constantine to the Vatican City and St Peter’s Square:

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A few hundred yards away, we saw the Castle of San Angelo. In Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, there is a tunnel featured that allows the Pope to escape from St Peter’s to this Castle. This tunnel does actually exist, though it is not open to the public. The Castle itself is massive and much bigger than I had imagined.

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Across the river to the Spanish Steps (and we climbed the lot). Further on, the beautiful Trevi Fountain is currently under repair and drained of water but the surrounding area was seriously manically crowded and we were glad to pass through some side streets to reach the Parthenon.

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One of my favourite places today was Piazza Navona, with its three fountains, the largest being in the centre.

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There followed a long walk through the centre of Rome to the Colosseum. The queues were long, though not as lengthy as those at St Peter’s Square. We did a lap of the outside.

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We followed the path past the Arch of Constantine and tried to find the Mouth of Truth at the Church of San Alessio. It appeared to be shut, the Church that is, rather than the Mouth. Presumably this was because it is Sunday. We were back at the pick up point but, with some minutes to spare, walked up the 124 steps to get a good view of the Capital Museum and then the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Fun fact of the day was that the Margarita pizza gets its name from that of the first Italian king’s wife, who loved the taste (though she also loved it with anchovies) and it is the national dish with the colours of the national flag – green (Basil), white (cheese) and red (tomato).

One thing I never knew was that the Romans invented cricket, but it must have been very difficult to dislodge the bails from these stumps:

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And that was stumps. My word, it was hot today and we stopped on the way back for an ice cream. Ah, free WiFi for a few minutes, though I am writing this several hours later. Hopefully it will be slightly cooler in Corsica tomorrow, but I would imagine many of my friends back in England would give anything for a day as warm as this. It felt like a decent number of miles today but maybe it was the heat.

Sniffing out four noses

Something and nothing today. A stop in the port of Livorno, a quick couple of hours in town, a bit of walking, a bit of shopping and a bit of sight-seeing. Most interesting aspect was the monument at the sea end.

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It remembers the victory of the soldiers of Livorno over the pirates in the 18th century. There are four pirates shackled and it is apparently a sign of great luck to come for anyone who can find the one spot from which all four noses of the pirates are visible. I think I found it, though I would need to be about a foot taller.
Cooler today, though quite close in the shade and warm in the sun. Low twenties, so still pleasant enough……..

Trip to Rome tomorrow.

Lapping it up in Monaco

The nascent plans for today, Friday, were to walk the length of Monaco – a walk that would barely last an hour – but events and other aspirations meant that they were not to transpire. We booked an excursion from the port of Villefranche entitled ‘Monaco and Monte Carlo on your own’ and we expected a coach trip up there for 11am and to be allowed to roam free for four hours or so. As it was, we arrived at an underground bus station in Monaco at about 11:20 and were told to be back at the coach by 1:00. There was just not time to get to the western border, walk to the eastern side and then back to the coach. As well as that, there was a tremendous crush just to reach ground level, with most involved being older than us. We were both quite cheesed off to say the least.

Hey, we decided (in the 80 minutes we had left) to walk the F1 track. I had it in my mind that it was 2.78 miles long and so, notwithstanding a steep descent,  it was quite feasible.

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This is the hairpin bend by the Fairmont Hotel and we were able to easily negotiate the lap, neither incurring any dents (unlike the car in the picture) nor seeing any yellow flags or safety cars, also finding time for other sights before reboarding the coach just before 1.

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Unbeknown to us, there was a second stage to the day as the bus drove on to Monte Carlo and we had another hour and a half stop in the afternoon. Given we had already walked there – the Casino is right next to the F1 circuit – we felt that if we had known the plans, we could have done a lot more today. As it was, we walked through some nice gardens (public ones, not residents’ private ones, I hasten to add) and stopped for a small coffee and a can of coke, and that will be €8 thank you very much. Free WiFi did help me, very slowly, to upload the three blog posts from earlier in the week. But this is a blog about walking and sadly we didn’t manage as much as we would have liked today.

The return coach trip to Villefranche did pass up Grand Corniche, I think it’s called, where a number of scenes from Hitchcock’s 1955 film To Catch A Thief were filmed. I am sure I recognised actual places from the car chase. In the tyre tracks of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly we tread.

So in some ways, an unsatisfactory day in terms of the communication of the schedule by P&O, but we still made a decent day out of it. It is not very gracious to gripe at having had the time to spend in such a glorious place in fantastic weather, 27 Centigrade. Tonight we sail for a couple of days in Italy though the ship started off before realising that three tender boats were desperately still making their way back!

On a downbeat note, today was the funeral of a former work colleague, John Ingram. 2015 has seen more friends and acquaintances pass away than in any other year I can recall and John was always a friendly face and voice to me. Obviously I wasn’t there today, but my thoughts did turn to him during the afternoon. I hope he had a good send-off.

Gibraltar conquered

The very much anticipated day on Gibraltar arrived and a rather limited time on the small state: 9:30am to 2:30pm. Pammy and I were on a mission to make Gibraltar her first, and my third, country where the length of the country had been walked.

A scout on Google Earth and Street View prior to leaving Sarisbury showed that it would be around an hour and a quarter’s walk, but we knew we would have to walk double that in order to get back to the ship. The first stage was to walk down from the port to the Southern end, where we saw the Europa Point Lighthouse.

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Just a few yards away, we could turn and see the Polish Memorial, the only mosque on Gibraltar, the Mosque of Two Holy Custodians, backgrounded by some of the famous Rock of Gibraltar:

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The road was long, with many a winding turn, that led us to where, who knows where? Sorry, lost my thread for a moment, but the roads were unsurprisingly steep and not always pavements, but the drivers quite conservative. When we later neared the northern edge of Gibraltar, we had to cross the runway of Gibraltar Airport, looking both ways as we made our way through. This is a picture looking back south from the northern edge.

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Clearly the warmest day for walking so far as the temperatures rose as high as 25 Centigrade and both of us had t-shirts that were soaked in sweat by the end. We had not had much time to do much more than down, up and back to the ship. We will no doubt return in the future and climb the Rock, see the apes and do the cable car. It felt a very British place, especially the main street which was a long sprawl of various thoroughfare. As we passed a school, just at the top of a decent climb, I mused that they hardly needed PE lessons. Just walking to and from home, without the aid of mum and dad’s 4×4, on a daily basis, would be exercise enough!

As many couples have, Pammy and I have private jokes. The rather non-PC one this week has been where we have been walking behind ‘large people’, unable to get past. The phrase we use is that ‘they didn’t share’ but we also saw a couple of heads on sticks that had not only shared but hadn’t even taken. Each to his or her own, and life would be boring if we were all the same. Every person has their own struggles and it’s just fortunate or unfortunate that some struggles are more obvious and visible than others. Sounds like a Thought For The Day.