I have been to … Portugal, Spain, and Gibraltar

Wednesday 1st October 2014: Southampton
Sue and I woke up at just after 6.30am, and by 8.00am we had washed, dressed, eaten breakfast, and loaded the luggage into the car. Our satnav had already informed us that there were likely to be hold-ups on the M25 due to roadworks near the junction with the M23 … and we joined the slow-moving queue of traffic not long after passing the Clackett’s Lane service area. We kept up a steady speed until we reached the turn-off for the M23, after which our speed picked up. As a result of this hold-up we reached the junction with the M3 to Southampton nearly thirty minutes later than we would normally have expected.

Our drive to Southampton was uneventful, and we even had time to stop for some refreshments at Winchester Services. We arrived at the Ocean Cruise Terminal not long after 11.30am, and by midday we had been booked in, passed through the security checks, boarded P&O’s Azura, and were sitting in the Meridian Restaurant drinking champagne (for Sue) and orange juice (for me), and eating a snack.

By 1.30pm our cabin was ready, and when we got there we discovered that our entire luggage had already been delivered. We then spent the next couple of hours unpacking and resting before going to the statutory safety briefing, which was held in the Manhattan Show Lounge. After that had ended we returned our life-jackets to our cabin and then went up to the Poolside Grill for a late lunch and a drink. Whilst we were there Azura slipped her moorings, slowly moved away from the dockside, and began to sail downriver towards the open sea.

We had returned to our cabin by 5.30pm, and read and rested until it was time to get ready for dinner. We decided to go for a pre-dinner drink in the Planet Bar, which is situated on Deck 18 Aft as this is usually reasonably quiet. In fact it was more crowded than it has been on previous cruises, but we were still able to find somewhere to sit.

We used the lift to go down from the Planet Bar to the Oriental Restaurant, which is situated on Deck 6 Aft. We were shown to our table and by 8.45pm the other six people we will be sharing a table with had arrived and we had all introduced ourselves. With the exception of two of our dinner companions, we had all cruised regularly with P&O. The two who were new to P&O had previously done fly-cruises with Princess Cruises, which is also part of the same group of companies as P&O (they are both owned by Carnival Cruises) but aimed at a less traditional British cruise market.

The conversation flowed to and fro during dinner, and it would appear that we are going to enjoy the company of our dinner companions during our cruise. We had all finished eating by 10.20pm, and after saying our ‘Goodnights’, we went our separate ways. Sue and I went up to the Promenade Deck for some fresh air before going back to our cabin to sleep. We were both very tired, and I just about managed to begin reading the first chapter of John Buchan’s ISLAND OF SHEEP before I finally fell asleep.

Thursday 2nd October 2014: At sea
We both woke up just before 8.00am to discover that the ship was sailing through fog and that she was rolling slowly from side to side. When we went to breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant at 9.20am, the fog was beginning to clear, and by the time we had finished eating at 10.10am an announcement from the Bridge informed us that Azura had just turned around Ushant and passed from the English Channel into the Bay of Biscay.

After breakfast we went up to the Promenade Deck, where we stayed for about 20 minutes. We then went to the ship’s Atrium …

… where Sue spent some time looking in the various shops that are situated there. After a quick visit to our cabin to freshen up, I made our way down to the Manhattan Show Lounge to listen to an illustrated talk by Kenneth Vard about the history of liners. This lasted until just after midday, at which point I returned to our cabin.

We remained in our cabin until 2.40pm, when we went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant on Deck 15 for a light lunch. After lunch we spent a short time in the open air at the back of the ship before going down to the shore excursions desk – which is known as Explorers – to book a tour in Lisbon. Unfortunately the tour we wanted to go on had been cancelled due to lack of bookings and none of the others appealed, so we ended up coming away empty handed.

As we were both feeling rather tired, we returned to our cabin to rest until it was time to get ready for the Captain’s Gala Reception at 8.15pm and the first formal dinner of the cruise. The Captain of Azura – Captain David Pembridge – welcomed everyone aboard and introduced his Senior Management Team to the assembled passengers. He then made a few comments about the places we would be visiting, by which time it was 8.45pm and time to go to dinner.

As usual, the dinner was excellent, as was the company and we did not leave the Oriental Restaurant until well after 10.30pm. Sue and I went for a short walk along the Promenade Deck before going back to our cabin, where we both read for a while before going to sleep not long after 11.30pm.

Friday 3rd October 2014: At sea
As Azura sailed further south, the weather continued to improve. Just before 10.00am – and whilst we were eating breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant – Azura passed Cape Finisterre in northern Spain and left the Bay of Biscay.

After breakfast Sue and I sat on the open deck until it was time to go Kenneth Vard’s second lecture. He spoke for well over forty-five minutes about the history of P&O from its formation until the 1970s, and both of us found it very interesting and informative.

By the time Kenneth Vard had finished his lecture, Sue and I were both feeling rather thirsty. We made our way up to Breaker’s Bar on Deck 16 Forward, but it was so crowded that we could find nowhere to sit. In the end we went down to Deck 15 Midships, where we were able to find a table and chairs that were vacant near to the Coral Pool. A bar steward from the nearby Coral Bar served us some very welcome cold drinks, and we stayed there relaxing until it was just after 1.30pm.

We ate lunch in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant, and then went to Deck 15 Aft to sit in the open air. Sue and I remained there chatting until nearly 2.45pm, when we went back to our cabin to read and rest.

Suitably refreshed and rested, we had a pre-dinner drink in the Planet Bar on Deck 18 Aft, where we had a chat with two of our table companions. Just before 8.30pm we took the lift down to the Oriental Restaurant – which is on Deck 6 Aft – where we ate dinner with the other two couple we share the table with.

We had finished eating and talking by 10.15pm, and after a breath of fresh air on the Promenade Deck, we walked up the stairs to our cabin. Because we were going to Lisbon next morning we prepared all the stuff we would need to take ashore with us before turning in for the night. I managed to stay awake long enough to finish reading ISLAND OF SHEEP and to begin John le Carré’s CALL FOR THE DEAD.

Saturday 4th October 2014: Lisbon
We were both woken up by the noise of Azura passing under the 25th April Bridge. (This bridge was originally named the Salazar Bridge and was renamed after the Carnation Revolution of 1974.) As a result Sue and I were in the Oriental Restaurant eating breakfast just before 8.45am and heard the Captain announce that Azura was safely moored alongside the Old Tobacco Dock and that passengers could go ashore.

Whilst we were eating our breakfast the Costa Fortuna sail past Azura and tied up just upriver of her.

The Costa Cruises ship was then joined behind Azura by the Black Watch, which is operated by Fred Olsen Cruises.

From the Old Tobacco Dock (Doco do Jardin do Tabacco) we had an excellent view of the 25th April Bridge and the statue of Christ the King …

… the National Pantheon (Panteão Natcional), …

… and the Monastery of Saint Vincent of Fora (Mosteiro São Vincente de Fora).

As we were moored so close to the Lisbon Military Museum (Museu Militar de Lisboa) we decided to pay it a visit. Our walk along the seafront took us past some interesting and unusual wall art that was obviously inspired by steampunk.

It took us less than fifteen minutes to walk to the Military Museum …

… and we stayed there for well over an hour. It contained some very interesting collections, and I will not doubt be writing more than one blog entry about what we saw on display.

By the time we left the Museum we were both in need of a drink. Luckily there was a small café nearby – the Novo Conceito – where we each drank a strong but refreshing cup of café latte.

Rather than walk back along the seafront, we turned inland and followed a route that took us up narrow streets …

… and across almost empty squares.

Along the way we saw bits of the ancient city walls …

… parts of which had been incorporated into newer buildings.

We also saw some very impressing buildings that dated from the time just after the great earthquake of 1755 …

… which were even more impressive when seen from a distance.

Our route finally took us back to the seafront, and after negotiating our way across the very busy road that separated the Old Tobacco Dock from the city, we re-boarded Azura. We made our way up to the Terrace Bar on Deck 15 Aft, and had a cooling drink before going into the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for a snack lunch. We then returned to the Terrace Bar and stayed there until Azura departed from her berth.

As Azura made her way down the River Tagus and towards the sea, she was passed by one of the local passenger ferries.

Just before Azura sailed under the 24th April Bridge, she passed the statue of Christ the King, which is situated on the bank of the River Tagus opposite Lisbon.

Although it looked as if there was not enough room for the Azura to sail under the bridge …

… she managed it with ease, although the very open nature of the bridge’s construction was a bit unnerving to see …

… as was the combined sound of the wind blowing through the structure and the vehicles driving over it.

Once past the bridge …

Azura approached Belém. Belém is famous for two things; the huge Monument to the Discoveries (Padrào dos Descobrimentos), which was built in 1960, …

… and the Tower of Belém (Torre de Belém), which was built between 1515 and 1521.The Tower has served as both a fortress and a prison, but is now preserved as a national monument.

By the time Azura reached the seaward end of the River Tagus the air temperature was beginning to drop, and we made our way back to our cabin to rest before getting ready for dinner. We managed to get seats in the Planet Bar for a pre-dinner drink, and by just after 8.30pm we were in the Oriental Restaurant reading that evening’s dinner menu.

After dinner we took a short stroll along the Promenade Deck before returning to our cabin to get our bits and pieces ready for going ashore at Cadiz. Once that was done we both read for a while before turning out the lights and going to sleep.

Sunday 5th October 2014: Cadiz
Overnight the clocks went forward an hour, and it was therefore no surprise that it was still dark outside when we awoke at 7.30am. The lights of Cadiz we just about visible in the gloom as Azura steamed towards the port.

By 8.15am dawn was breaking and Azura was already turning around so that she would enter her berth stern first. This has the advantage of making it easier for her to leave quickly later in the day as it reduced the time it takes to get under way and out of the harbour.

We ate breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, and by just after 10.00am we were walking down the gangway from the ship to the shore. We saw that another, much smaller cruise liner – the Explorer – had moored behind Azura

… and her passengers – who seemed to include a large number of American college students – were also streaming ashore.

Because we have visited Cadiz several times before, we decided to try to walk around the seaward side of the city. We walked through the Barrio de San Carlos until we reached the sea near part of the old fortifications …

… and along Honduras

… to a small park area near the Baluarte de la Candelaria. (The Baluarte was one the bastions that protected the northern part of Cadiz from an attack from the sea.)

Inside the park were a number of statues and busts including one of Almirante Miguel Grau Seminario, the famous Peruvian naval commander …

… and one of José Marti, the Cuban revolutionary.

After we had passed the Baluarte de la Candelaria we turned westward along the Paseo Carlos III. As we did so we heard the sound of a military-style band playing a little further along. We found the band resting in another small park …

… after waiting some minutes for them to resume playing (which they did not) we walked the short distance that took us into the Parque Genovés.

We had visited this park some years ago, and made our way through it to the large water feature and grotto that occupies one corner of the park.

The pond that adjoins the water feature and grotto is also home to a number of ducks … and a model dinosaur!

At the south western end of the Parque Genovés is a fine example of a ‘dragon tree’.

Only a few metres from the park’s exit is a statue of another South American hero, Simon Bolivar.

Only a few minutes further on we reached the wide paved area that runs alongside the Avenida Duque de Nájera for the full length of the Playa de la Caleta.

(The fortress in the background is the Castillo de Santa Catalina.)

By this point we were both feeling in need of a rest and a drink, so we stopped in the Quilla, a local café.

We then continued our walk along the Avenida Duque de Nájera

… until we reached the entrance to the causeway to the Castillo de San Sebastián.

After some debate Sue and I decided to walk out to the Castillo de San Sebastián

… and it turned out to be a very interesting – and very large – coastal defence fortification that was used until relatively recently. (I hope to write a separate blog entry about the Castillo de San Sebastián in due course.)

Our visit to the fort took well over an hour, and as it was well past midday we decided to make our way back to Azura. Initially we continued our walk along the road that runs along the seaward side of Cadiz …

… before turning inland to walk along the very long street named Sagasta.

This brought us to the Plaza San Francisco

… which connected to Rafael de la Viesca.

This led us to the Plaza de España

… which was just across the street from the Azura.

(We could see the Plaza de España from the Terrace Bar on Deck 15 Aft!)

After a short visit to the duty-free shop in the cruise terminal, we passed through the land-side security checks and went back aboard Azura. Sue and I paid a very quick visit to our cabin on our way up to the Terrace Bar on Deck 15 Aft, where we both drank large, cold – and very much needed – drinks. Suitably revitalised and rehydrated, we then ate a late snack lunch in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant.

We were both feeling very tired, and rather than sit on deck until Azura sailed out of Cadiz, we went back to our cabin to rest and freshen up before it was time to get ready for dinner.

For a change we had a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar … and we returned there for some fresh air after dinner and before going back to our cabin to sleep. We had hoped to see Gibraltar on the horizon as Azura sailed through the Straits, but we were so tired that we had to go to bed before it was even faintly visible in the distance.

Monday 6th October 2014: At sea
After the exertions of the past two days, we were both looking forward to a restful sea-day. We awoke just after 8.00am and went to breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant at 9.15am.

As the weather was warm and sunny we decided to go out on deck after breakfast. We went up to the open deck area on Deck 15 Aft, and stayed there until a little before 11.00am, at which time we went down to the Manhattan Show Lounge – via our cabin – to listen to Kenneth Vard’s third lecture. His subject was the French ocean liners of the 1920s and 1930s, particularly the Isle de France and the Normandie.

It was just past midday when Kenneth Vard finished, and we decided that we needed a drink before doing anything else. We made our way up to the Terrace Bar on Deck 15 Aft and after ordering our drinks we sat there until it was time to have some lunch.

For a change we decided to go to the Glasshouse Wine Bar rather than the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for lunch, and we had a very enjoyable meal there. The service was not rushed and we were able to take our time eating the food and enjoying the ambience. After we had eaten we made our way out onto the Promenade Deck where we sat for a while relaxing and watching the world go by.

We returned to our cabin just before 4.00pm, and spent what remained of the afternoon reading and relaxing. I finished CALL FOR THE DEAD just before I had to begin getting ready for the second formal dinner of the cruise.

Sue and I had a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar before going down to the Oriental Restaurant to eat. As it was a formal dinner the dishes on the menu were a little more elaborate than normal, and choosing what to eat was a challenge because there were so many that we wanted to try!

We returned to the Terrace Bar for some fresh air after we had finished eating, after which we went back to our cabin to prepare for our visit to Barcelona and to get ready for bed. I just about managed to read the first two chapters of A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY by John le Carré before finally going to sleep.

Tuesday 7th October 2014: Barcelona
The sounds of Azura preparing to entry port woke us up just before 7.30am. It was still quite dark, but by 8.20am Azura was coming alongside her berth in the docks. She moored just behind one of the smaller Costa Cruises ships, the Costa Riviera and in front of the Costa Fortuna.

The berth was almost in line with the fortress atop Montjuic …

… which is no longer a military museum even though some of the old coastal defence guns remain in place.

Sue and I ate breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant before going up to the open deck on Deck 15 Aft. We then waited until all the organised tours had gone before making our way ashore. We took the shuttle-bus from the cruise terminal to Barcelona’s World Trade Centre.

From there we walked inland to the roundabout where the Avinguda del Parallel meets the main seafront road …

… from where we could see the statue of Christopher Columbus that dominates the seafront.

We walked up the Avinguda del Parallel

… towards the lowermost station of the Funicular de Montjuic. When we got there we discovered that the funicular was out of operation for the foreseeable future. After a short discussion we decided to try to find a taxi that would take us to the top of Montjuic … and found a taxi rank within a matter of minutes. The drive to the top took less than ten minutes and cost us 10€, including a tip.

We spent nearly two hours exploring the Castell de Montjuic (Montjuic Castle) …

… and I hope to write a separate blog entry about this former coastal defence fortress.

The fortress is a wonderful place from which to look across the port of Barcelona …

… and the city … including Gaudi’s icon Segrada Familia.

The Castell de Montjuic did contain one particular piece of art that is worth mentioning … a metal sculpture that looks like a Cross when viewed from one direction and a Star of David when seen reflected in a mirror.

Whilst we were at the Castell de Montjuic another Costa Cruise ship – the Costa Luminosa – entered the harbour and tied up in front of the Azura.

After our visit to the Castell de Montjuic we decided to walk down the hill towards the Avinguda del Parallel and to look for somewhere to eat lunch on the way down. This turned out to be a somewhat foolhardy decision as it was a lot further than we had realised!

On the way we passed a very loud grasshopper, …

… a monument dedicated to Spanish Navy Lieutenant Juan Manuel Duran, …

… and several ornate fountains.

After walking downhill for nearly an hour we were very hot, very tired, and very thirsty … and had had no luck finding anywhere to stop to rest and have something to eat and drink. Eventually we found a taxi parked near the Fundancio Joan Miro which took us back to the World Trade Centre. A shuttle-bus back to Azura was just about to leave so we jumped aboard and were back at the cruise terminal by just after 3.00pm. Once back on board Azura we went straight to our cabin to drop off our bags before going up to the |Terrace Bar for a much-needed drink.

By the time we had had our drink, lunch was no longer being served so we had afternoon tea in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant instead … which was not that different from the snack lunch that we normally eat. We then went back to the Terrace Bar for another drink before returning to our cabin at 4.00pm.

We remained resting and reading in our cabin until it was time to get ready for dinner … which had a tropical theme. (It gave me an excuse to wear a very colourful shirt that I bought on St Kitts some years ago.) Because the weather was so pleasant we had a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar … and went back there after dinner for another drink before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Wednesday 8th October 2014: Palma de Majorca
Dawn was just breaking when we awoke at 7.30am. Azura was making her final manoeuvres before mooring alongside the dock in Palma de Majorca. By 8.15am Azura had her lines ashore and the Deputy Captain announced that passengers were free to go ashore.

As we were getting ready for breakfast, I noticed what appeared to be a warship on the horizon. Thanks to the 40x zoom on my camera I just about managed to get an image of the warship …

… which appeared to be a frigate of some sort.

I also saw the Costa Favolosa was moored at a nearby berth.

Sue and I ate breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant as usual, and went up to Deck 15 Aft for some fresh air before getting ready to go ashore. We were about to go back to our cabin to collects our bags and cameras when an announcement was made over the ship’s public announcement system to the effect that there were problems with the shuttle-buses, and that passengers were advise not to go ashore until further notice.

At this point a number of warships began to sail past Azura and out to sea. They were the German Minehunter Homburg (M1069), …

… the Royal Navy Minehunter HMS Grimsby (M108), …

… the Greek Mine Countermeasures Ship Europa (M62) (formerly the Royal Navy’s Hunt-class ship, HMS Bicester), …

… and the Spanish Minehunter Duero (M35).

It looked as if they should have been joined by the Turkish Navy Minehunter Erdek (M263), but she seemed to be experiencing some technical problems and was being moved around the harbour by tugs.

Also in Palma de Majorca’s harbour was the Italian Artigliere-class frigate Aviere (F583).

We went back to our cabin and waited … and waited … and eventually – at about 11.30am – we were informed that we could go ashore. We did so, and by midday the shuttle-bus had deposited us across the road from the cathedral.

From there we walked up the Avinguda D’Antoni Maura until we reached the Plaza de la Reina.

We then continued our walk up the Passeig des Born

… until it reached the Plaza Jean Carles I, where we turned right onto Unio.

By this point the heat and humidity got the better of us, and we stopped for a drink in the Forn des Teatre café.

After some light retail therapy in a number of nearby shops, we went back to the shuttle-bus stop. The problems with the shuttle-buses (too many passengers and not enough buses) had been transferred from the cruise terminal to the centre of Palma de Majorca, and we had to wait nearly forty minutes in the afternoon sun before we were able to board a shuttle-bus to take us back to Azura.

When we got back to the ship we were very hot and very thirsty, and after dropping our stuff off in our cabin we went up to the Terrace Bar for a cold drink. Once there we saw that another cruise ship – the MSC Musica – had moored near the Costa Favolosa.

By the time we had finished our drinks, the ship’s restaurants had stopped serving lunch, and we had to eat an early afternoon tea rather than a proper meal. This was not great hardship as we had booked a table in one of the ship’s select dining venues for that evening and had not wanted to eat much for lunch anyway.

After some discussion, Sue and I decided to complain about the poor shuttle-bus service. We went down to the Reception Desk on Deck 6 Midships, and made our feelings known to one of the duty receptionist. Our complaint and views were duly noted, and a verbal apology was given. We then made our way back to our cabin to cool down, rest, and read before getting ready for our special dinner.

After having a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar we made our way up to Deck 17 Aft where the appropriately named 17 Restaurant is located. We ate a truly excellent meal, after which we when back to the Terrace Bar to sit in the cool evening air. We got chatting to some other passengers, and did not return to our cabin to go to bed until just after 11.30pm.

Thursday 9th October 2014: Cartagena
Azura came alongside the dock in Cartagena just after 7.30am, just as the sun was rising.

As it got lighter, I could see two Spanish warships moored on the opposite side of the port. They were the Patrol Ship Infanta Elena (P76) (formerly a Frigate of the Descubierta-class) …

… and the Minehunter Segura (M31).

Just before we went to breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, some of the warships we had seen in Palma de Majorca began arriving in Cartagena.

We went ashore soon after 10.00am …

… and made our way up to the promenade that runs parallel with the Paseo de Alfonso XIII.

Sue and I walked toward the left, and soon reached a massive statue that has been erected to the memory of all victims of terrorism.

Just behind the statue is another monument, this time in memory to the links that Cartagena had to the Carthaginian and Roman Empires.

It was less than two minutes walk from this statue to the entrance to the Naval Museum (Museo Naval), which is situated on the ground floor of Cartagena’s Technical University.

We spent quite some time inside this museum, and it will be the subject of a forthcoming blog entry … or more!

After our visit to the Naval Museum we walked up the Calle Juan Navarro Coromina

… along part of the Calle Real

… towards the Plaza J M Artés.

We turned the corner into the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where the very imposing Town Hall (the Ayuntamiento) …

… is located. We then made our way up several narrow side streets to the recently excavated Roman amphitheatre.

We then walked back towards the main shopping area of Cartagena, but before beginning any retail therapy, we had a drink in one of the small cafés that are located in the Calle Mayor.

Suitably refreshed, we strolled up the Calle Mayor

… until we reached the Plaza San Sebastian.

We continue our walk up the Puerta de Murcia

… and then turned right into the Calle Santa Florentino

… and right again into the Calle San Fernando.

At the end of the Calle San Fernando we turned right again into the Calle Caridad. This street eventually became the Calle Gisbert, which passed under the old Carlos III Walls and back to the Paseo de Alfonso XIII.

The route we had taken had circumnavigated a large section of the old city of Cartagena, and by the time we reached the Paseo de Alfonso XIII we were both very thirsty. Luckily the National Museum of Underwater Archaeology (ARQVA Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Subacuática) had a modern and very cool cafeteria where we were able to get a cool drink.

As we made our way back to the ship we passed a very nice looking restaurant – the Restaurante Mare Nostrum

… where we decided to eat lunch. (We felt like a change from the normal food that is available for lunch aboard Azura.) We ate our lunch on the restaurant’s open-air terrace … and it was a very pleasant and leisurely affair.

Sue and I were back aboard Azura not long after 3.00pm, and went back to our cabin to rest after our lunch. The warships we had seen in Palma de Majorca were now moored on the opposite side of the harbour from the Azura.

We did go up to the Terrace Bar in time to watch Azura sail out of Cartagena harbour, and it afforded an excellent view of the Restaurante Mare Nostrum, the Carlos II Walls, and the buildings that line the Muralla del Mar.

As Azura sailed out, we caught a glimpse of some of the Spanish warships that were in the Naval Base.

The entrance to Cartagena’s harbour is quite narrow …

… and as Azura passed through the narrowest part of its approaches some of the coastal defence – both old and not so old – we visible.

We had returned to our cabin by 5.30pm, and after a short spell resting and reading we got ready for the Peninsular Club Cocktail Party. This was held in the Malabar Lounge, and it began at 8.00pm.

After the cocktail party we went down to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner. The conversation over dinner covered all sorts of topics, but the previous day’s problems with the shuttle-buses were probably the most discussed item.

Once dinner was over, Sue and I went up to the Terrace Bar for a post-dinner drink. Whilst we had been eating, the wind had increased speed and it was quite blowy on deck. Despite that, it was still warm enough to sit in the open air, and we stayed there until just before 11.00pm, when we went back to our cabin to sleep.

Friday 10th October 2014: Gibraltar
Azura was on her final approach to Gibraltar when we woke up at 7.30am. As our cabin was on the port side of the ship we could not see the Rock as Azura sailed towards it from the south. We could – however – see the lights of Algerciras on the western side of the bay.

As Azura was only staying in Gibraltar until 1.30pm, we tried to get ready slightly earlier than usual so that we could disembark as early as possible. In fact we had finished eating breakfast by the time that the Deputy Captain announced at 9.00am that all the formalities were completed and that passengers were free to go ashore.

We allowed time for all the passengers going on organised tours to go ashore before setting out for the centre of town. Our route took us past the Silver Seas Mariner, which was moored alongside the other side of the cruise terminal.

We walked along the North Mole …

… to the main gate into the docks.

We then continued walking towards the centre of town …

… until we reached the entrance to Casemates Square.

Sue and I passed through the gateway and tunnel into the Square …

… and began the long walk up Main Street …

… to the Governor’s Residence.

We stopped for a quick drink in The Angry Friar …

… before continuing our journey towards the Trafalgar Cemetery.

Just before we reached the Cemetery we passed an excellent example of a Woolwich Infant, …

… which is a Victorian rifled muzzle-loading cannon.

When we reached the Cemetery we found that the entrance was ‘guarded’ by a cat …

… who raised no objection to us going in.

Although the cemetery is known as the Trafalgar Cemetery, only a few of the sailors who died as a result of the battle are buried there. Most of the plots are occupied by the bodies of soldiers from the garrison who died during their time on Gibraltar.

It was a very peaceful place, and we sat there for some time enjoying the quiet. It is also a place that attracts all sorts of butterflies, and we were able to photograph some of them when they settled on plants.

It was 11.45am by the time we began to walk back to Casemates Square, and other than taking a photograph of the guard outside the Governor’s residence (he was a member of the Gibraltar Regiment) …

… we did not stop until we reached the Square. The midday clock chimes were just sounding as we sat down in The Tunnel café and each ordered a cold drink and a snack lunch.

Service was relatively quick, and by 12.30pm we began to make our way back to Azura. The walk back took us just over thirty minutes, and we joined the queue to embark at 1.05pm. The security checks and baggage scanning slowed the process of getting back aboard somewhat, and we were not back in our cabin until 1.20pm … ten minutes before all the passengers were due back aboard.

Just after 1.45pm Captain Pembridge announced that Azura was about to set sail, by which time we were sitting in the Terrace Bar having a cold drink. Azura had just cast off, and was slowly moving away from the dock when it began to rain … but this did not delay our departure, and by 2.00pm Azura was working her way towards the entrance of the bay.

As she did so, Azura went past the Spanish towns of La Linea and Algerciras as she sailed out towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

We went back to our cabin soon after this, and stayed there until just after 4.00pm, when we went up to the Venezia Self Service Restaurant for a cup of tea and a cake … or two! After that we returned to our cabin and read and rested until it was time to get ready for dinner.

Despite being rather windy, we found that it was pleasant enough in the open air to be able to have a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar … and to return there after dinner for some fresh air before going back to our cabin to sleep.

Saturday 11th October 2014: At sea
After all the activity of the past few days, it was nice to be able to have a little bit of a lie-in. That said, we were still up not long after 8.00am and eating breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant by 9.15am.

Once we had finished breakfast, Sue and I went up to Deck 15 Aft to enjoy some fresh air, and we remained there until 10.30am. We then returned to our cabin to read for an hour or so before we needed to get ready for the Peninsular Club Lunch for Ligurian and Baltic tier members. (Because we do so much cruising, Sue and I are members of the highest tier in P&O’s loyalty scheme, the Peninsular Club. This entitles us to certain privileges, including a special lunch that is hosted by senior officers.)

The Peninsular Club Lunch was held in the Meridian Restaurant and began at midday. Sue and I – and three other passengers – were allocated seats at the table hosted by the Chief Engineer. He was an excellent host, and for the next two hours we talked to our table companions and ate an excellent gourmet meal.

After lunch we went up to the Terrace Bar to have a drink and to sit in the fresh air. We stayed there until nearly 3.00pm, when we went back to our cabin to recover. Sue and I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon reading and dozing, until it was time to get ready for the last formal dinner of the cruise.

We went to the Terrace Bar for a pre-dinner drink, but whilst we were sitting there it was very apparent that the weather was beginning to change for the worse. The wind speed had increased and the ship’s movement – which has been barely noticeable for most of the cruise – was becoming more pronounced.

This change did not affect our enjoyment of dinner as the Oriental Restaurant is quite low down in the ship. (It is on Deck 6 Aft.) When the meal was over, however, and we went back to the Terrace Bar, it was too cold and windy to stay there and we had to go to the covered area near the Coral Pool to find any shelter from the wind.

On our return to our cabin we found that our disembarkation instructions had been delivered … and that they were incorrect. As a result we had to pay an urgent visit to the Reception Desk to get them changed. By the time this had been done it was 11.15pm and we were both feeling rather tired. Despite this I managed to finish reading A SMALL TOWN IN GERMANY before falling asleep.

Sunday 12th October 2014: At sea
Overnight the weather did not improve, and we were awoken several times during the night by the ship’s movement. When we finally got up at 8.00am Azura was already halfway across the Bay of Biscay and sailing into a 50 knot wind.

After breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant we went up to Deck 15 Aft, but decided that it was too cold to stay there for more than fifteen minutes. On our return to our cabin we completed the customer service questionnaire and began sorting out some of our stuff to pack. Just before 11.00am we went to the Manhattan Show Lounge to listen to the last of Kenneth Vard’s talks. This one was about the Titanic and her sisters, and it lasted nearly an hour.

When the talk was over we went to the Reception Desk to drop off our complete questionnaire and then went up to the area next to the Coral Pool on Deck 15 Forward to get some fresh air. Although it was not as windy as Deck 15 Aft, it was quite cold, and we only stayed there for a few minutes before going back to our cabin to begin packing.

By 2.00pm we had packed three of our bags and took a break for lunch, which we ate in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant. This was followed by another brief spell in the fresh air on Deck 15 Aft … which was somewhat warmer than earlier as the wind direction had changed. We then returned to our cabin and I put out the packed bags so that they could be collected for off-loading on the following morning.

After finishing most of the rest of our packing, we spent some time resting before having a break for tea in the Venezia Self Service Restaurant at 4.15pm. (We always leave one bag almost packed until just before we go to bed, so that we can pack any last-minute items in it prior to it being put out for collection.) This was followed by yet another brief spell in the open air, after which we returned to our cabin to get ready for dinner.

We had our usual pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar, and just before 8.30pm we went down to the Oriental Restaurant for dinner. Once dinner was over, we said our ‘Goodbyes’ to our table companions and the staff who had served us so well during the cruise. Sue and I then had one last visit to the Terrace Bar for a breath of fresh air before going back to our cabin to sleep. By the time we got up to Deck 15 Aft it was raining quite heavily, the wind speed had noticeable risen and the ship had developed a marked roll. We only stayed there a few minutes before deciding to go down to our cabin pack our final bag and to sleep.

Monday 13th October 2014: Southampton
The weather got worse overnight, and I was woken several times by the violent movement of the ship and the sound of the furniture on our balcony being blown against the balcony door. Twice I had to open the balcony door and push the furniture across to the other side of the balcony … and in both cases I got soaked by the rain and the spray.

Sue and I did manage to get some interrupted sleep once Azura had reached the waters around the Isle of Wight, but we were awake at 6.30pm as Azura moored alongside the Ocean Cruise Terminal in Southampton. As the sun rose, we saw that the RRS Discovery (IV) was moored on the opposite side of the quay.

We could also see the small fleet of forklift trucks used to offload the luggage scurrying about in the space between the ship and the terminal building.

At 7.45am we went down for our final breakfast in the Oriental Restaurant, which we finished by 8.15am. We then collected our hand luggage from our cabin, said goodbye to our cabin steward, and made our way down to the gangway. There was a slight hold-up at this point, but by 8.30am we were in the luggage collection hall.

Once we had found all our bags, Sue and I pushed our luggage trolleys through the empty Customs Hall and out of the cruise terminal. It took us less than five minutes to make our way to the car park were our car was stored, and by 9.00am we were driving out of the port’s main gate. It rained for most of the journey home, and this – combined with heavy traffic on the M3 and M25 – meant that we did not get home until after midday.

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