EAST OF AFRICA: REUNION
DAY 81 - 02 APRIL 2023 (SHIP'S date)
Under way from Reunion to Durban
Queen Mary 2 World Centenary Voyage
102 days, 31 ports, 18 countries.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson reporting from Queen Mary 2
Port Call: Réunion, department - France
Reunion Island, a French department in the Indian Ocean, known for its volcanic, rain-forested interior, coral reefs and beaches. Its most iconic landmark is Piton de la Fournaise, a climbable active volcano standing 2,632m (8,635ft.) Piton des Neigas, a massive extinct volcano and Reunion’s 3 calderas (natural amphitheatres formed by collapsed volcanoes) are also climbing destinations.
The island has been inhabited since the 17th century, when people from France, Madagascar and Africa settled there. Slavery was abolished on 20th December, 1848 (a date celebrated yearly on the island) after which indentured workers were brought from South Africa. The island became an overseas department of France in 1946. As elsewhere in France, the official language is French. In addition, the majority of the region’s population speaks Reunion Creole.
There is much to be said for guided shore excursions, stepping off the gangway of the ship straight into the comfort of an air-conditioned coach and driven to see the sights. No planning or preparation is required and it is reassuring to know that you will be taken to wherever you want to go, and returned home to the ship at the end of the tour.
Shore excursions booked through Cunard guarantee that the ship will wait if transport is delayed. It happens. Fellow passengers stand by the ship’s rails, sometimes cheering, as they watch the late arrivals return, On board we await the Captain’s announcement , “All passengers are now on board and we are ready to set sail.”
Official tours offer security, safety and professional guided information. However, there are drawbacks to this method of exploring. You are required to move at the speed of the slowest passenger and scheduled stops may be shorter or longer than your preference at places of varying interest to you.
Cunard often offer an alternative to the official tour itinerary, an “On Your Own’” visit. Coaches take independent travellers to a designated spot, allow a certain amount of time for the visit and transport returns for the journey back to the ship.
Reunion islands, Saint-Denis, was the perfect place to go alone. A 30-minute journey along the highway with the ocean on one side and a magnificent mountain range on the other. Once in the city, the largest town of the French Colonies, the mountain range provides a stunning backdrop to the city’s creole soul and colonial past. The town centre overflows with greenery; trees, plants, flowers, bring grandeur to streets named Rue de Paris and Avenue de la Victoire, the centuries old architecture is proudly classical as on Rue de la Republique where is to be found, The Governor’s Palace (Hotel de la Prefecture) formerly home to the French East India Compay, alongside a war memorial with a winged angel atop a column, and the Cathedral of Saint-Denis-Sauveur, one of the many churches, mosques and temples.
For first time visitors to the town, the strategically placed landmarks offer an invitation to explore the town, climbing the incline from harbour to the stylish French fashion shops, down to the waterfront promenade lined with canons from the Napoleonic wars.
Peak roofed two storey white wooden buildings line the wide avenues. Most have stood the test of time but there are glaring examples of distressed beyond chic, awaiting renovation.
Pastel painted shutters on windows and balconies remain closed to block out the noon day sun and stores prepare to close for the traditional French two-hour lunch break. The atmosphere of the town and the residents is gracious, unhurried, elegant. To ask questions about the French character, look at the traditional grocery stores on neighbourhood streets selling creamy pastries, fresh loaves and baguettes and produce from the local bouchier. The pace of life encourages housewives out doing their daily shop, to stop and chat with friends on the street and on the corners, men huddle smoking cigarettes and talking politics.
The smell of coffee and fresh baked bread waft through the air and combine with the perfume from the blossoms of trees and flowers spilling out from balconies and shop fronts. There are cafes, bars and restaurants on every cross street, including discreetly painted shopfronts displayed on McDonalds and KFC.
Vehicle free streets are a compromise, cars do travel down them but give priority to pedestrians.
The market at Grand Marche is a catch-all for fruit, vegetable and handicrafts. Scents andSpices from Reunion Island and Madagascar are on sale and many tourists choose these to bring home as souvenirs.
Down on the waterfront promenade, brightly coloured beach tents serve as restaurantsoffering specialties such as crepes, with vanilla, chocolate or fruit and cream-filled donuts.Heroes of the city such as the explorer Roland Garros, an Aviator and Officer of the Legion D’ Honneur is commemorated in a statue which overlooks the harbour and also in the restaurant that bears his name.
In town there are well-known international brands such as Paul’s, a poplar French restaurant in the states, I use it regularly. Especially for their colourful range of macrons.
Reunion was named after a boat that ran aground and the creole city and culture grew up around the small harbour. Driving down the thoroughfare between sea and town, with palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze, it is easy to be reminded of beachfront towns such as Cannes in the South of France and Reunion is very reminiscent of European cities despite being on the other side of the world to its founding fathers.
One disadvantage of visiting a town like Reunion, On Your Own, is the many opportunities to get lost. Armed with a map but no other local knowledge, getting lost is almost a given. Judging by the number of other cruise ship passengers, you come across in the city, staring at their maps and looking anxiously about them. To ask a passer-by is hardly efficient, only one person I approached was able to string two words of English together, that being double with my two words of French. The showroom and workshop of a motorbike dealership came to a halt as two mechanics, one salesman and one customer tried to help find the location of the large ink blot on my map as a place to meet the return coach.
Two mechanics walked me to the highway to show the route I needed to take – we Exchanged ‘mercis”, “Thank you’s” and “Oks” standing on the busy intersection. The customer and the salesman came to the motorbike showroom doorway to wave me off.
Being a solo traveller is an enriching experience. It’s always good when the British and the French establish friendly relations. Au revoir, Reunion.
Happy Sailing... Ellen
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Current position of Queen Mary 2: Under way from Le Port to Durban
Departure was 3 d 41 min ago. (at 19:00 h local time)
Arrival will be in 11 hrs 49 min. (at 05:30 h local time)
Traveled distance since Le Port: 1,157.39 nm (2,143.49 km)
Remaining distance to Durban: 283.21 nm (524.51 km)
Traveled distance since Fremantle (Perth): 4,521.50 nm (8,373.81 km)
Photo of the day (from the archives of JD Schwartz)
"CHARTING THE COURSE"
Further updates will be posted as soon as we get them from Ellen onboard Queen Mary 2.