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High above the harbour, from Monaco's palace square, I hear the roar of the engines, the excited French commentary and our National Anthem celebrating a Vintage Grand Prix British driver's win. Through the crowds, I nudge my way to the viewpoint and look down at the multi-hued sea of spectators in stands and terraces, the winding rally route and the super yachts in La Condamine, the famous harbour.
This is the glamorous Côte d'Azur. It's breathtakingly beautiful. I can hardly believe I'm here. But there's more to take in on this day in Monte Carlo, the prime port of call on Fred Olsen's French Riviera, Spain and Portugal 16-night cruise.
At 11.55am, the precise pageantry of the Monaguesque Changing of the Guard takes place outside the Prince's Palace, home of Albert, son of the late Prince Rainier 111 and the late Princess Grace Kelly. "It's not like our Changing of the Guard," says one spectator from the UK, loudly, trying to make herself heard over the drums and trumpets. Maybe she expects the guards to be wearing busbies. Unsurprisingly, the tourist shops are upmarket in this principality. Rather pleased with myself, I speak in French, which is understood, to ask about the sizes of Grand Prix baseball hats (les casquettes) for my small grandsons. Unusually, the response is in French, too.
Going back on board Boudicca is like going home after a fabulous day out. From my home, I've travelled to Blackpool to pick up Eavesway Travel's luxury coach from Blackpool to Dover. Boudicca is sparkling following a face lift since my last sailing on her. I'm always excited to get on board. It's a new adventure every time, and with your own hotel in tow! My cabin has twin beds, plenty of hanging space (I use every hanger plus a few of my own!) TV, picture window and bath with shower over.
The Fred Olsen experience is friendly, comfortable and easy going. The average age of passengers is around 70 to 75, but there are younger and older cruisers on every cruise on every ship in the fleet. Excellent food is served buffet style or a la carte in the restaurants. For me, dressing for dinner each evening is part of the pleasure, but in the restaurants it's smart casual rather than sequins, feathers and frills, unless that's your thing, of course. Smiling, helpful staff go out of their way to please and even remember the names of passengers who've sailed with them previously. Solo travellers need be alone only when they want to with daily meet-ups for solos, but it's easy to chat to other passengers, anyway and anywhere. Regular Fred fans like that the fleet can access smaller harbours than their huge counterparts.
Alan Barlow, 81, from Lytham St Annes, tells me about his fantastic deal and is clearly over the moon with the bargain he managed to secure via a Fred Olsen one-day flash sale. "I stayed on the phone for nine hours before I got through, but it was worth it because I got a suite on Deck 7 with a balcony, lounge area and separate bedroom on Deck 7, for half price," explains Alan.
No excuse to be bored on sea days with activities, classes, lectures, musical concerts, fitness and quizzes, etc. Visit the spa or the gym, savour a white-gloved afternoon tea or fragrant cuppa in the new Oriental Tea Room. I dance the cha cha with the resident hosts and attempt a few rusty barre disciplines in the ballet class. Sometimes I swim, laze on deck or read in the tranquil Observatory, but, for me, there's never a dull moment. Every evening there's entertainment in the Neptune Lounge. One cruiser grumbles about her dislike of The Glums - fanatics, like myself, who call it Les Mis, join in the chorus of the rousing Can You Hear The People Sing. The captain might have heard us from the Bridge!
Boudicca docks at Cannes during the annual Film Festival, but it's a bit showery, and the only stars I spot are cardboard cut-outs of Star Wars' Ewan McGregor and Daisy Ridley. From Cadiz, I travel to Jerez, to sample the famous Spanish sherry. The tasting makes me bold and afterwards I claim a goodbye kiss from the young, caramel-eyed guide - just to follow the custom of many European countries, of course.
Valencia's Peniscola, on Castellon's Costa del Asahar, was filmed for an episode Games of Thrones. Protected by walls and a castle, a Knights Templar fortress dating back to the 13th century, the town was re-named Meereen for its part in the blockbuster fantasy series. A number of local residents grabbed a part in the filming, too. 1961, Medieval Peniscola was also used as a set for El Cid, starring Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston. By the way, first syllable of Peniscola rhymes with pen and not preen!
The small fishing town of Palamós, on the Costa Brava, offers peace and relaxation on idyllic beaches, beautiful covers, good shopping and fine dining. My tuk tuk threads its way through the narrow, cobbled streets of old Porto then follows the scenic route alongside the River Douro. Best known for its stately bridges and port wine, Porto, the second city of Portugal after Lisbon, also boasts fine beaches and remarkable churches.
In Almeria, I tread the Walk of Fame (Paseo de la Fama) where star shapes bearing celebrities' names are laid into a paved street. As I stand on one, the breeze blows through my blonde hair and lifts my dress way above my knees, but no-one mistakes me for Marilyn Monroe.
For more info visit www.fredolsencruises.com
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Monaco and the vintage Grand Prix
Marion in Porto
House of Shells Pensicola
Statue of Tio Pepe in Jerez
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