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Normandie Express - Maiden Voyage

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Andy

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16th March 2005

And so the saga begins. We arrived at the port shortly before 7am. Freezing cold, we headed towards the terminal where we got some foreign currency and waited to meet the rest of our group. A very strange looking character kept wondering around looking at people and we wondered what we had let ourselves in for…! However the strange man was actually a press photographer and not our companions who turned out to be very nice indeed. 

We had to modify our booking slightly inside the terminal, then headed outside to our cars. As we rolled up to the check in booths we realised that we really needed to have the other car containing behind us. I had a bit of a blonde moment and tried to talk to the clerk in French, because I couldn’t remember the English equivalent of the word I was trying say!  Anyway, booking sorted out, we were directed towards the waiting Normandie Express. All the cars were parked alongside, waiting for the press and various other people to clear the linkspan so that we could board. There were plenty of cameras around. She was looking a little dirty, but this isn’t surprising considering that she came all the way from Tasmania.

After 15 minutes or so, we were back in the car driving onto the deck. I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the amount of garage space that the incat has. All of the French deck crew were extremely helpful if a little disorganised, it’s a shame that one of the English officers in particular was quite rude, ushering us to the steps a number of times!  We headed up on deck where we found none other than David Longden on his mobile phone. It soon transpired that pretty much most of the bow area was closed off and designated as VIP only. Most of the English side of BF management were on-board along with a large contingent of travel agents.

We made our way to the stern to watch our departure. We were soon laughing ourselves silly over the very strange music that accompanies the safety announcement – a sort of drum and bass crossed with dance and rap music affair. The stern soon filled up with the school children on-board, who also it seemed, wished to watch departure. The weather was fantastic, I have never seen Portsmouth look so nice! Blue skies and blue sea. Frequent announcements were made later into the crossing to ask the said school children to sit down….

Just after we left the berth, the Normandie who was on her berth tooted her whistle a couple of times. It is a shame that the captain on the NEX didn’t respond by tooting his. As we were leaving Portsmouth, the captain came over the tannoy (the first time we had ever heard a “BF” captain make the welcome announcement) and speaking rather bad French, then English, welcomed everyone aboard. I guess the poor man was quite nervous and I’m sure he will get the hang of things soon!

The crossing over was a “little” rough, apparently because of the sudden change in direction of wind, which made the sea “un peu agite”. We’d estimate around 80% of the people on-board were sea-sick. A lot of people commented on the lack of a commodore lounge and that the shop is a little small. I would tend to agree with them, but have been reliably informed that there are plans to introduce a commodore lounge and expand some areas of the craft for next season.

Most of us had some sort of Food on-board, the croissants were apparently very nice according to Mr K, I wish I could say the same for the bread rolls and jam I had! Luckily time passed quite quickly and we soon arrived at Cherbourg which was also looking quite nice in the sunshine. Debarkation was quick for us as we were on the lower deck, however Steve and co. had to wait a little longer. The thermometer in the car showed a very pleasing 23 degrees and we had to turn the air conditioning on! Two-Way radios also switched on, we headed out of the port (through passport control first) then out to the Auchan on the Peripheral of Cherbourg. 

We then headed up the A road to Caen. The journey took little over an hour and a half and it was very relaxing! We approached Caen and drove straight to the ferry terminal to grab a bite to eat. 5 portions of chips and a croquet monsiuer later, we headed back to the car to await boarding. The Mont st Michel was looking very nice alongside. A very pleasant hostess (as pointed out over our two-ways!!) was directing cars up onto the decks. I made a bit of a faux pas about one of the ramps which gave us all a chuckle. We were fortunate to be placed on the lowest car deck, thus ensuring quick debarkation at Portsmouth. 

Once on-board we headed up to reception to get a cabin and dumped our bags. We watched departure from the outside deck at the stern. Caen looked very nice in the afternoon sunshine. It was very reassuring and pleasant to be back on a traditional cruise ferry, crossing the channel at half the speed we did earlier! Our stomachs rumbling, we headed to Les Romantiques, the main restaurant for dinner. We sampled the Lamb and the Beef. We all agreed that it was delicious. Baked Alaska was on the menu for pudding, which was also nice. It came with a shot of Brandy, which on the Pont-Aven they pour over the Baked Alaska and set alight to (singed eyebrows all around!). Unfortunately, the Mont St Michel appeared to have run out of matches, leaving us to think that perhaps it’s a P-A thing?!!

After dinner, we headed to the main bar, where the barman took the opportunity to teach me how to pronounce “Noir”, which was quite funny. During the crossing we all had a chuckle when the receptionist announced that “Meet The Fockers” would be broadcast in the cinema shortly. All too soon, Portsmouth loomed. There was heavy fog which made the journey onto the berth very interesting. The spinnaker tower looked quite strange and eerie. We passed Andy’s Val on her way out. Debarkation was swift and it was soon time to transfer into the various cars and head in our separate directions.

Trip Summary: 

All in all it was an excellent trip. I think its probably summed up best when describing the NEX  “It’s an Incat”. Which I would tend to agree with. Hopefully her crew will gel over the next couple of weeks and will soon master the ropes of what is in essence, quite a complicated piece of machinery. Some people have said that equipment was crashing around, however I didn’t see or hear any of this myself… Perhaps it was people crashing around instead!!If you want to get to France quickly and are willing to sacrifice a comfy cabin then go for it. Otherwise perhaps think about taking one of the traditional cruise ferries. 

It will be very interesting next year to travel on her again after she has had modifications made to her. One wonders if a larger shop and commodore lounge were on the agenda for this season, but the delivery time and other pressures (e.g. the easter market) were just too great. Inside she is bright, modern and airy. Hopefully BF will build on this.

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