I have been to … Spain, Monaco, Italy, France, and GibraltarPosted: April 24, 2016
We were awake earlier than expected (6.30am) and were we ready to leave for Southampton by 8.45am. Our route took us around the M25 – which was busy but not too busy – and onto the M3. The ongoing roadworks between the junction of the M3 with the M25 and the turn off for Fleet slowed us down somewhat, but by the time we had reached Basingstoke the traffic was flowing freely. We reached Winchester services at 10.35am, and stopped for a cup of coffee and a toasted sandwich in the branch of Costa Coffee.
When we rejoined the M3 the traffic flow had increased, but there were no major hold-ups. We turned off and joined the A35, which took us through the eastern part of Southampton to the docks. We reached the Ocean Terminal at 11.30am, and after a short wait to unload and hand over the car to the valet parking service, we we inside the Terminal building by just after midday.
As we are regular cruisers with P&O, we are rated as being what they term Ligurian Tier passengers. This meant that we did not have to wait to be checked in, and by 12.15pm we were sitting in a separate part of the embarkation lounge waiting to go through the security checks before boarding MV Ventura.
The security check area opened at 12.45pm, and we joined the short queue of passengers waiting to be checked through. There was a delay whilst the two passengers in front of us in the queue had to be thoroughly checked and their hand luggage searched. (Both set off the metal scanner because they were wearing items made of metal, and then the x-ray of their hand luggage showed up a suspicious item … a long-handled nail file that looked very like a knife.) This was – in many ways – very reassuring as it was nice to know that the security checking regime that is in place is thorough.
By 1.00pm we were aboard Ventura and on our way to the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 7 Midships), where we sat eating and drinking whilst our cabin was prepared. This took until just after 2.00pm, at which point we were able to go up to Deck 9 (D Deck) where our cabin was located. Our luggage had already been delivered, and we were able to unpack almost everything by the time we had to go to the Havana Bar (Deck 7 Aft) for the obligatory safety briefing.
By the time the briefing had finished, Ventura had just cast off and was slowly moving away from the dockside. As she did so we had a great view of her sister ship – Azura – which was moored some distance away alongside the Mayflower Cruise Terminal.
On our return to our cabin we finished unpacking the last few items in our luggage, at which point we decided to sit and rest for a while before it was time to get ready for dinner. We sat in our cabin watching the world go by as Ventura slowly steamed towards the Solent …
… and around the Isle of Wight. By then it was beginning to get dark, and we had started to get ready for dinner. We had a pre-dinner drink in The Glass House Bar (Deck 7 Midships) and then walked aft until we reached the stairs going down the the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft). The restaurant’s doors opened at 8.35pm, and we were shown to our table, which was situated at the stern of the ship, next to a window overlooking the sea. By 8.45pm we had been joined by our table companions for the voyage – three other couples from various parts of the UK – and had begun to order our meals. Everyone introduced themselves, and the conversation flowed back and forth throughout the meal, and we finally parted company just after 10.30pm.
Sue and I then went up to Deck 15 Forward for a breath of fresh air before going to bed, and it soon became apparent that the weather was beginning to change for the worse. It was cold and very windy, and we did not stay outside for very long. In fact, by the time we reached our cabin and had begun to get ready for bed, there was a distinct degree of motion that caused light items left on table tops to move about.
Saturday 9th April, 2016: At sea
By the time we awoke on Saturday morning the ship had developed a distinct lean to starboard as well as a periodic juddering sensation every few minutes. The on-screen map display in our cabin showed that Ventura had turned southward out of the English Channel and had rounded Ushant and passed into the Bay of Biscay.
Whilst we were eating breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), the Captain – Captain Simon Terry – made an announcement regarding the weather conditions. He told everyone that the forecast was that high winds and large waves were going to cause the ship to experience additional movement from mid afternoon onwards, and that this was predicted to remain the case for at least the next thirty six hours. As Sue and I are quite good sailors, this did not worry us unduly, but it was apparent that quite a few passengers were already beginning to feel the affects. (Every set of stairs had so-called ‘motion discomfort’ bags in dispensers on each deck level, and a large number of cabins had ‘Resting’ notices on their doors.)
Sue and I decided to attend a talk in the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) at 11.00am, and after breakfast we had a stroll around the ship before making our way there. The speaker was Tony White, and his talk was entitled ‘The Milk of Paradise’. The talk told the story of the use of opium (and its derivatives) from ancient times until the modern day, and included the role of the East India Company in the the import of opium from India to China (and the subsequent Opium Wars), the development and use of heroin and morphine, and the fact that the legitimate growing of opium poppies for use by the pharmaceutical industry is licensed by many countries across the world, including the UK.
After the talk – which ended just before midday – Sue and I went up to The Glass House Bar (Deck 7 Midships) for a drink before lunch … and eventually stayed there to eat as well. We finished just after 2.00pm, and after a very quick trip outside into the open air we went back to our cabin to read and rest for the rest of the afternoon.
I began reading FIGHT AND BE RIGHT by Ed Thomas (published by Sea Lion Press) on my Kindle. This is an alternative history of Britain – and the other world powers – during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and takes as its major premise that Lord Randolph Churchill did not contract syphilis and die, but became a reforming Prime Minister.
During the latter part of the afternoon and early evening Sue and I began getting ready for the first formal dinner of the cruise. We had a pre-dinner drink in the Metropolis Bar (Deck 18 Aft) before going to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner. The food was – as usual – excellent, and the company was even better. (We seem to have been very lucky again in sharing a table with people who are easy to get on with and interesting to talk to.)
After dinner we went to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) to watch a performance by ‘The Beatles Experience’, a very good tribute band. This was followed by a quick breath of fresh air on Deck 15 Forward, after which we returned to our cabin to get ready for bed.
Sunday 10th April, 2016: At sea … and Vigo!
After a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep (the ship seemed to have spells when she was rolling quite violently at times), we both woke up just after 8.20am … and found that the weather outside had – if anything – actually got worse! Driving rain was lashing the cabin’s balcony door and the sky was a leaden grey. Somewhat alarmingly the on-screen map display seemed to indicate that Ventura was on a course towards Vigo in Galicia, Spain!
At 9.00am the Captain made an announcement that due to a medical emergency, Ventura was going to have to divert to Vigo to off-load a passenger who was in need of urgent medical attention. (We subsequently found out that they had had a heart attack.) By this time the coast of Spain was visible on the horizon …
… and as we went to breakfast at 9.30am, Ventura was approaching the entrance to the bay in which the harbour is situated.
We finished eating not long after 10.15am, and we were able to go out onto the port side of the Promenade (Deck 7) to see what was happening. The ship was just coming alongside the Vigo Cruise Terminal …
… and an ambulance was on-hand to collect the casualty.
From the other side of the Promenade (Deck 7) we could see across the bay to where two Spanish Navy mine-hunters were located.
Near to them was a Guardia Civil patrol boat, which remained on station until Ventura was ready to leave.
At 11.00am Sue and I made our way to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7) to listen to Tony White’s talk entitled ‘The Elixir of Life’.
This talk covered the history of cocaine from its use by South American Indians during the pre-Columbian era until its widespread use in the modern world, and how governments and criminal gangs have exploited the trade in cocaine to achieve their goals of wealth and/or power.
Once the talk was over, we went for a walk around the ship in the hope of finding somewhere where we would be able to buy a drink and to sit in comfort. We ended up in the Metropolis bar (Deck 18 Aft), and we stayed there until it was time for lunch. We ended up eating at the carvery that was held in the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships).
After a light lunch we discovered that despite the poor weather, the Promenade (Deck 7) was still open, so we went out onto it for a breath of fresh air. After ten or so minutes were decided that it was too cold and windy to remain there, and we returned to our cabin to read and rest for a while. By that time Ventura was off the coast of Portugal, and well on her way towards her original course southwards.
During the afternoon we paid a short visit to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for some light refreshments, followed by a short spell out on the open deck for some fresh air. (Like most cruise ships, Ventura has a very efficient air conditioning system, but every so often it is nice to actually breath some fresh air that has not been filtered, warmed, and dried.)
On our return to our cabin I finished reading Ed Thomas’s FIGHT AND BE RIGHT and began reading the first of several ‘Maigret’ stories that I recently loaded onto my Kindle. PIETR THE LATVIAN was first published in 1930 and I believe that it might have been the first novel to feature Inspector Maigret of the Police Judiciaire.
Because the weather and sea conditions had not improved, Sue and I went for our pre-dinner drink in the Metropolis Bar (Deck 18 Aft) before joining our dinner companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft). After dinner we went up to the covered deck area on Deck 15 Forward for a short time before going back to our cabin to read and to sleep.
Monday 11th April, 2016: At sea
The weather was slightly better overnight, and we were only woken up a couple of times due to the ship making a sudden, violent movement. By 8.30 am Ventura had reached the southern coast of Portugal and turned eastwards towards the Straits of Gibraltar.
We had breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), after which we spent some time on the Promenade (Deck 7). Just before 11.00am Sue and I made our way to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7), where we spent the next forty five minutes listening to Tony White’s third talk – which was entitled ‘Anything Goes!’ – about about barbiturates, amphetamines, LSD, and Ecstasy.
After leaving the theatre we both felt thirsty and decided to see what it was like in the covered area on Deck 15 Forward, where we knew that we could get a drink from one of the nearby bars. It was quite pleasant sitting there, and we remained there drinking and chatting until it was nearly 1.00pm.
As neither of us was feeling hungry, we decided to wait until later before going to find something to eat. We would have remained where we were had it not been for the smell of varnish which permeated the air. (The teak furniture in the undercover are on Deck 15 Forward was in the process of being re-varnished, and the furniture that had already been done had not yet lost the smell of fresh varnish.)
We went back to our cabin to read until we both felt hungry, and in fact we stayed there until nearly 3.00pm, by which time Ventura was beginning to approach the Straits of Gibraltar.
For the first time since we left Southampton, we also began to see a number of other ships.
By 3.00pm we were both feeling hungry and we decided to go up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack, which we followed with a short spell out on the open deck area on Deck 15 at the back of the ship. We then returned to our cabin, and at 4.45pm the Ventura began to pass Tangier on the coast of Morocco.
At approximately 5.45pm Ventura passed through the narrowest part of the Straits of Gibraltar.
As it was the Captain’s Gala Cocktail Party at 8.00pm, we started to get ready not long after 6.0pm. The Party was held in the ship’s Atrium (Decks 5 to 7 Midships), and we decided to go to the lowest deck as experience told us that it tended to be less crowded. It was … and whilst we were there we met up with two of our dinner companions as well as two of the ship’s training officers.
The party ended at 8.30pm, and by 8.40pm we were sitting with the rest of our table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for the second formal dinner of the cruise. The food, service, and tabletalk were all excellent, and by 10.15pm we were finished and on our way to the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) to watch the second performance by ‘The Beatles Experience’.
Once the performance was over – and before going back to our cabin – Sue and I took a walk along the Promenade (Deck 7). We were back in our cabin by 11.30pm, and before going to sleep I finished reading Georges Simenon’s PIETR THE LATVIAN (whose plot proved to be full of all sorts of twists and turn) and began reading THE HANGED MAN OF SAINT-PHOLIEN.
Tuesday 12th April, 2016: Cartagena, Spain
Ventura arrived in Cartagena well ahead of her planned 8.00am arrival, and when we awoke at just after 8.00am she was already moored alongside the dock and the formalities had been completed.
Because our cabin was on the starboard side of the ship, we had a view of seafront of Cartagena …
… which is dominated by the hill that is topped by Concepción Castle.
After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), Sue and I got our stuff together and went ashore just after 10.00am. We walked along seafront …
… until we reached end and turned towards the main road that runs parallel with the seafront, the Paseo de Alfonso XII.
This took us into the Plaza Héreos de Cavite, which is dominated by a monument to the Spanish soldiers and sailors who died defending Cavite during the Spanish-American War.
On a wall nearly opposite the memorial were a number of commemorative plaques, …
… one of which was dedicated to Manuel de Cervantes, …
… and another which told the history of Cartagena since its foundation.
We walked inland past the impressive Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) …
… and up the main shopping street Calle Mayor …
… until we reached the Plaza San Sebastian.
On one side of the Square was a very ornate and ancient-looking carousel.
We then continued our walk inland up the Puerta de Murcia and Calle Carmen …
… until we reached the Plaza de España. The centre of the Square contained a small park which had a fountain at its centre.
Sue and I were both beginning to feel thirsty, and we decided to stop for a drink in a nearby café, the Piazza Café.
Suitably refreshed we retraced our steps, turning off along the way so that we could walk to the top of the Muralla del Mar, which gave us an excellent view across the section of the harbour where Ventura was moored.
This area is being rejuvenated and many of its buildings are being restored, and it seems to be one of the more exclusive areas of Cartagena in which to live.
We then walked back down to the seafront and to a restaurant where we ate the last time we visited Cartagena, the Mare Nostrum.
We sat on the restaurant’s terrace area …
… where we ate and excellent light lunch. We returned aboard Ventura just before 2.30pm, and after dropping off our bags and cameras in our cabin, we went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a drink.
Ventura set sail at 4.30pm, and as she sailed out of the harbour, we passed some of the old fortifications.
Sue and I then had to get ready for dinner. We had booked places at the special Pairing Menu meal in The Glass House (Deck 7 Midships), and had to be ready by 6.30pm. (The meal matched each dish on the menu to a specific wine that one could drink.) The meal and wine were excellent … as was the service and the company, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an evening.
We finished eating at 9.30pm, and after a short walk along the Promenade (Deck 7), we went back to our cabin to read before it was time to go to sleep. I finished reading George Simenon’s THE HANGED MAN OF SAINT-PHOLIEN and began THE CARTER OF LA PROVIDENCE. (Unlike most crime stories, THE HANGED MAN OF SAINT-PHOLIEN ended without anyone being arrested for a crime, although a crime had been committed by the man whose death Maigret investigated.)
A quick check of Ventura‘s position on the on-screen map display in our cabin showed that she was sailing northwards not far from Moraya on the Spain’s east coast.
Wednesday 13th April, 2016: Barcelona, Spain
We were woken up not long after 7.00am by an emergency announcement for the ship’s medical team. Sue and I tried to get back to sleep again, but in the end we gave up and got up. By that time Ventura was already in the outer harbour of Barcelona, and was turning around so that she could moor with her bows pointing towards the harbour entrance.
Ventura was finally moored alongside by 9.00pm …
… by which time Sue and I were eating breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft). Once we had finished eating, we returned to our cabin to pick up the bags and cameras we were taking ashore, and had just left to go to the gangway when an announcement advised us to wait until the queues for the shuttle-bus had shortened. We waited on the Promenade (Deck 7) until 10.30pm, by which time the queues were much shorter.
The shuttle-bus dropped us off outside Barcelona’s World Trade Centre, from where we took a taxi to the Castell Montjuïc (Montjuich Castle).
From there we had a view across Barcelona’s harbour, where we could see Ventura tied up alongside one of the Cruise Terminals.
We walked around the outside of the castle …
… to a point where there was a panoramic view across the city.
One of the most prominent buildings was Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) cathedral, which is still in the process of construction.
We then decided to walk down from the top of Montjuïc, using the extensive network of paths and roads.
Our walk took us down towards the Estadi Olimpic (Olympic Stadium) …
… which looked very impressive the closer we got to it.
The Olympic Torch Holder that was used for the 1992 Olympic Games was still in place …
… near the main entrance to the stadium. The stadium was open for the public to view, and after a quick look at the field and running track …
… Sue and I decided to have a drink in the stadium’s café.
Suitably refreshed, we then set off to walk further down the hill towards the Placa d’ Espanya. Our route took us towards the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalonian Art).
On the way we almost trod on a small, very well camouflaged lizard …
… which scuttled across the footpath we were using. Soon afterwards we reached a statue on a plinth …
… from where we could see the back and side of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
As we walked around the building, we passed the entrance to a small park that contained an interesting water feature.
From the front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya …
… we had a wonderful view of the Font Magica (Magic Fountain) and the twin towers that mark the entrance to the Placa d’ Espanya.
By this time we were both feeling rather tired, and used the outdoors escalators to go downhill.
Halfway down we passed another interesting water feature …
… which was quite dwarfed by the one that came down from Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
We walked down the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina until we reached the Placa d’ Espanya. It was interesting to note that the former Barcelona Bullring (Casa de la Papallona) had been converted into a shopping centre.
We found a taxi rank on one corner of the Placa d’ Espanya and took a taxi to the World Trade Centre, where we boarded the shuttle-bus back to Ventura.
We returned aboard just after 2.15pm, and after a quick visit to our cabin, Sue and I went up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack lunch and a cooling drink. Once we had eaten we went out to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), where we sat chatting to other passengers until 3.30pm. By then we were both feeling rather hot, and thought that we ought to go back to our cabin to cool off.
Ventura was due to leave Barcelona at 4.00pm, but due to a problem with one of the tours, her departure was delayed. (The coach carrying the tour passengers had broken down.) Eventually everyone was back aboard by 4.45pm, and Ventura set sail very soon afterwards.
As we were going to eat dinner in the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft) at 8.00pm, Sue and I began getting ready slightly earlier than usual. I still had time to finish reading George Simenon’s THE CARTER OF LA PROVIDENCE and to begin reading the next book in the omnibus selection that I had bought for my Kindle, THE GRAND BANKS CAFÉ.
We had a pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), before going up to the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft). The food – a duo of oak-smoked and whisky-cured wild salmon, followed by a chateaubriand, and completed with Crepe Suzette – was well worth the supplement we had to pay … and the quality of service was superb. After dinner we returned to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) just to sit and rest for a while in the open air. We then returned to our cabin to read until it was time to get ready for bed.
Thursday 14th April, 2016: Monte Carlo, Monaco
After a high-speed run overnight run from Barcelona, Ventura was moored in the harbour of Monte Carlo not long after 7.00am, …
… and by 8.00am the tenders had been launched and she was preparing to ferry passengers ashore.
Sue and I ate breakfast as usual in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), and by 10.10am we had finished, returned to our cabin to collect our bags and cameras, and were waiting in the queue outside the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships) to collect our tender tickets.
That was when our troubles began. It took nearly twenty minutes queuing before we were handed our numbered tickets … and then we had to wait a further fifteen minutes before our numbers were called and we went down to Deck 4 to board the tender. The tender finally cast off at 10.55am, and set off towards the harbour. This journey took over twenty minutes … and then we stopped! Our tender then sat just outside the harbour, bobbing about, until there was room for it to move alongside the docks. We finally disembarked after midday, the whole process having taken almost two hours from start to finish.
Because we were so late arriving, we had missed our chance to see the Changing of the Guard at the palace, so we just set off to walk towards the town along the Quai Antoine 1st.
Along the way we passed many, many expensive speed boats and yachts.
As preparations for the Monaco Grand Prix were well under way, the area around the main road – the Route de la Piscine and Boulevard Albert 1st – was a massive building site. We managed to negotiate our way around this and eventually ended up in Rue Princesse Caroline, …
… where we found a convenient bar – the Brasserie du Mystic – where we had a much-needed drink.
We then set off towards the Fontveille area of Monaco via steps …
… up to the Rue de Millo …
… and Rue Terrazzani.
Along the way we passed through the local market, which was in the process of closing up.
We finally reached Fontveille, …
… and after deciding not to visit the Musée des Timbres et des Monnaies (the Monaco Stamp and Currency Museum) …
… or the Collection des Voitures Anciennes (Monaco Motor Car Museum), we opted to go into the Musée Naval (Monaco Naval Museum) … and what a revelation that turned out to be!
I have rarely seen so many excellent ship models under one roof and in such a small area, and what we saw and photographed will form the basis of at least one future blog entry.
By the time we had finished our visit to the Museum, it was close to 2.00pm, and Sue and I decided to find somewhere to eat lunch. After a bit of a search we ended up back in the local market square, where we found an excellent small bar/restaurant – the Eden – where we were able to buy lunch.
We had finished eating by 2.45pm, and began our walk back to the harbour to catch the tender back to Ventura … and our troubles began again! The queue of passengers waiting to board a tender was over 300m long … and was only moving slowly forward. We finally boarded a tender at 3.45pm, and got back aboard Ventura at 4.15pm … only fifteen minutes before Ventura was supposed to be setting sail for Las Spezia, our next port-of-call. In the end the tenders were still bringing passenger back aboard at 5.30pm.
Ventura eventually set sail at 6.30pm … two hours late! Just before she sailed the Captain apologised for all the problems passengers had experienced, and explained that it was due to a strong swell slowing down the loading and unloading tenders, coupled with restrictions on the dockside due to another cruise ship’s tenders having to use the same facilities.
Because the air temperature was still warm, we were able to sit in the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for our pre-dinner drink. When we went down to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner, we discovered that two of our table companions had gone to one of the select dining restaurants and one of the others was feeling unwell. Despite this we had a great meal, and did not leave the restaurant until 10.30pm.
We were joined by one of our dining companions on the Promenade (Deck 7) for a breath of fresh air and a chat before we all went our separate ways to sleep.
Friday 15th April, 2016: La Spezia, Italy
Ventura was already well on her way into the harbour at La Spezia when we woke up just before 8.00am.
She was secured alongside her berth just before 9.00am, and Sue and I went for breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) soon afterwards. By 10.15am we were ready to go ashore, and a little after 10.45am the local shuttle-bus dropped us off at the Cruise Terminal, which was located on the seafront.
We then walked along the Viale Italia …
… until we reached the Viale Diaz, which took us inland. Along the way we passed a memorial to Giuseppe Garibaldi.
When we reached the Via Chiodo …
… we turned left, and walked towards the Piazza Chiodo.
Sue and I then crossed the Via Amendola and the bridge across the Canale Lagora, …
… which brought us to the entrance of the Museo Tecnico Navale (Technical Museum of the Navy).
We spend nearly an hour inside the Museum (a report of our visit will feature in a future blog entry), by which time we were both feeling thirsty. Crossing back across the bridge and the Via Amendola, we came to a small local café where we both had an excellent café latte.
We then walked along the colonnaded pavement of the Via Chiodo …
… until we reached the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, …
… at which point we turned inland. Our rambles took us through numerous streets …
… until we reached the Piazza Cavour, which is also known as the Piazza del Mercato.
By this time most of the shops had shut for lunch, and we decided to begin looking for somewhere to eat. We eventually found a local restaurant near the Via Chodo called the L’Osteria, where we ate a superb example of local cuisine …. baked sea bream and potatoes!
Because the meal was prepared from scratch, we were in the restaurant for well over an hour, and it was 2.30pm before we left to return to Ventura. We walked back along the Via Chiodo until we reached the Piazza Giuseppe Verdi, and then back towards the sea via the Via XX Settembre. This brought us out opposite the Cruise Terminal, where we were able to catch the shuttle-bus back to the Ventura.
Once back aboard Ventura, Sue and I both paid a quick visit to our cabin before going up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a cold drink. We stayed there chatting to another passenger until 4.30pm, by which time we began to feel tired. We therefore returned to our cabin to read and to rest until it was time to get ready for dinner.
Just after 7.30pm Sue and I went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink, and stayed there until the ship set sail from Las Spezia at 8.25pm. We then went down to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), where we ate yet another excellent meal, made all the better by the people with whom we share a table.
After dinner we spent a few minutes on the Promenade (Deck 7) before going back to our cabin to read for a while before going to sleep. I finished reading THE GRAND BANKS CAFÉ by Georges Simenon, and started THE SAINT-FIACRE AFFAIR.
Saturday 16th April, 2016: Ajaccio, Corsica
Sue and I were both awake by 7.30am, just as Ventura was beginning her approach towards the harbour of Ajaccio.
The last time we visited Ajaccio it was a rainy Sunday, and everything was either closed or cold, wet, and miserable. This time it was a warm Saturday and we hoped to see some more of the town and its surrounding area as a result.
Some distance away we could see what at first we thought was fog … but it turned out to be smoke from a fire!
After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), Sue and I began to make our way ashore just as crew drills were starting at 10.00am. Our route took us out of the exit from the Cruise Terminal, where we found a small flea market taking place on the opposite side of the road.
After having a look around – and resisting the temptation to buy anything – we made our way along the Quai de la République to the Place Foch, where there was a far more substantial market.
Sue and I took a leisurely stroll around the market, and having done so we decided to take the forty five minute-long ‘Little Train’ sightseeing tour.
This took us along the Avenue du 1st Consul to the Place De Gaulle, and from there on uphill along the Cours Granval to the Grotte Napoleon. On the site of a former house owned by the Bonaparte family a monument to the Emperor has been erected.
All of Napoleon’s victories are recorded on the monument, which is surmounted by a statue of the great man.
Our tour then passed through a residential area, after which it emerged onto the Boulevard Pascal Rossini, which runs along the edge of the beach. After passing the local cathedral (Cathédrale de l’Assumption), …
… (where the road became the Boulevard Lantivy and then the Boulevard Danielle Casanova) the ‘Little Train’ turned inland up the Rue Roi de Rome. We then turned right into the Avenue Eugène Macchini, and then right again into the Avenue du 1st Consul and finally ended up back in the Place Foch.
By this time Sue and I were both feeling thirsty, and we managed to get a drink in a nearby restaurant called La Gioia.
As we had been unable to take many photographs during our tour, Sue and I set off along the Rue Bonaparte towards the Boulevard Danielle Casanova and thence onto the Boulevard Lantivy. There we were able to photograph the magnificent Plage Saint François.
Turning around, we could see one corner of the Citadelle …
… which is protected by a wide dry moat.
The Citadelle is still used by the French Army, and is currently to home of a detachment of the 2nd REP (2nd Parachute Regiment of the Foreign Legion).
Next to the main gate is a monument to one of the local soldiers who took part in the liberation of France during the Second World War, General Pierre Lelong.
The Citadelle‘s dry moat …
… was used to graze a couple of donkeys …
… and a goat …
… which had found a convenient, shady ledge to rest on.
Just set back from the dry moat was a bust dedicated to the memory of the famous Corsican patriot, Pascal Paoli.
By this point Sue and I were both feeling very hot, and we began to walk back towards the Ventura. Just before we reached the Cruise Terminal entrance we passed a monument dedicated to those who fought in the Resistance.
We were back aboard the ship just after 1.00pm, and after a long, cool drink in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) we went into the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for a snack lunch. We returned to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) after lunch, but it had become so hot out on deck that we only stayed a short time before going back to our cabin to read, to rest, and to cool down.
Ventura set sail for Gibraltar at 4.30pm, and we sat on our cabin balcony and watched as the ship made her way out of the harbour …
… towards the open sea.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and the early evening pottering around, reading and resting until it was time to get ready for dinner. Although it had somewhat colder once Ventura had sailed out into the Mediterranean, it was still just about warm enough for us to be able to sit in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink. At 8.30pm we joined our six other table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner, and spent an very enjoyable time discussing how we had all spent or day ashore.
After dinner we went for a breath of fresh air on the Promenade (Deck 7) but as it had got even colder we only stayed there a short while. We then returned to our cabin and got ready for bed. Before going to sleep I finished reading Georges Simenon’s THE SAINT-FIACRE AFFAIR and began THE MISTY HARBOUR. (Most of Simenon’s novels are quite short and easy to read, and I found them idea stories to read whilst on this cruise.)
Sunday 17th April, 2016: At sea
After visiting five different places in five days, it was nice to have a relatively quiet day at sea. It was just getting light as Sue and I awoke, and Ventura was sailing at a steady 20 knots and had already reached a position south of the Balearic Islands.
Although it was a Sunday and a sea day, we had the Peninsular Club Lunch to attend at midday. We therefore planned to eat a light breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) and to spend the rest of the morning lazing around until it was time to get ready for the lunch.
By 11.45am we had returned to our cabin to change before going to the Peninsular Club Lunch, which was held in the Cinnamon Restaurant (Deck 5 Midships) at midday. This was hosted by senior officers, and we had the Chief Staff Engineer as our table host. As we have come to expect, it was an excellent meal, and our table companions – all of whom were also regular cruisers – proved to be a very varied but interesting group of people.
The lunch finished just before 2.00pm, and after a short spell on the Promenade (Deck 7), Sue and I returned to our cabin to read and to rest … and to recover from eating such a rich meal at lunchtime! Whilst Sue dozed, I finally managed to get around to writing a developed version of my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME. I had plans to use these rules at COW2016, and this seemed like an opportune time to do some work on them.
We had a break at about 5.00pm, and went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a drink. It was a little breezy, but the sun made it warm enough to sit there in reasonable comfort for twenty minutes. Sue and I then returned to our cabin, and began to leisurely get ready for the third formal dinner of the cruise.
We returned to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for our pre-dinner drink, and then joined our regular table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) for dinner. After dinner Sue and I were both feeling tired, and only spent a few minutes on the Promenade (Deck 7) before going back to our cabin to sleep.
Monday 18th April, 2016: Gibraltar
Ventura arrived off Gibraltar well before 8.00am, …
… and she was moving alongside the quay at 8.10am.
Another cruise ship – the Saga Pearl II – was already moored on the inner side of the dock, …
… which made the process of docking faster as Ventura did not have to manoeuvre between the mole and the dockside before mooring.
After a leisurely breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), Sue and I got ready to go ashore, and by just before 11.00am we had disembarked and walked as far as the entrance to Casemates Square.
We made our way across Casemates Square …
… and began the long walk up Main Street.
We stopped for a drink the ‘The Angry Friar’, …
… which is opposite the Governor’s Residence and next to the Old Guard House. Whilst we were sitting there, the hourly guard change outside the Governor’s Residence took place.
We then walked further uphill, past the Trafalgar Cemetery and the lower cable car station (where a cable car was just arriving), …
… and up to the gates of the Alameda Botanical Gardens.
Just inside the gates were two Russian cannons that were captured during the Crimean War and presented to the Government of Gibraltar.
We then walked up the steps …
… to the monument that was erected in memory of General George Augustus Elliott (later Lord Heathfield) who defended Gibraltar during the Great Siege (1779 to 1782).
We then spent the next hour just wandering around Gibraltar’s very interesting botanical gardens.
During our wanders we crossed a small bridge …
… from which we had an excellent view of a pond containing terrapins …
… and a small ornamental garden whose centre-piece was the Arms of Gibraltar.
We also saw a reconstructed summer house (The Prince of Wales’ Summer House) …
… and a small statue of Molly Bloom (one of the characters in James Joyce’s ULYSSES), whose connection with the Alameda Gardens is mentioned in the book.
By 12.30pm we were beginning to feel hungry, and left the Gardens via the Europa Road entrance …
… which is located just below the famous ‘The Rock Hotel’.
It took us less time to get back to Casemates Square than it had to climb up to the Alameda Botanical Gardens, and by 1.00pm we were sitting in the outside area of The Tunnel Restaurant …
… having a drink and eating lunch. Once we had eaten we decided to take a taxi back to the ship, and by just before 3.00pm we were sitting by the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) waiting for Ventura to set sail at 3.30pm. At 3.35pm the Captain announced that the ship was about to manoeuvre her way to port in order to turn toward to Straits of Gibraltar, and as she did so we had an excellent view of the airport runway …
… and the lower part of the town.
We could also see RFA Mounts Bay (L3008) …
… which was moored alongside the old Royal Navy base.
By 4.30pm Ventura was well on her way towards the Straits and Gibraltar was slowly getting smaller and smaller as she did so.
Not far from Cape Trafalgar, Ventura began to pass a United States Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship – the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) – …
… which appeared to have a number of Osprey and Harrier aircraft on deck.
The warship then did a 180° turn back towards the Straits of Gibraltar.
This made it possible to see her in much greater detail.
As she moved away from Ventura, the USS Kearsarge began flight operations using two of her ASW (anti-submarine warfare) helicopters.
The USS Kearsarge finally disappeared from view just before 7.30pm, just after Sue and I had gone to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for our pre-dinner drink. At 8.00pm we went up to the Epicurean Restaurant (Deck 17 Aft) to eat there for the second time during this cruise. As before the food was excellent, the service was superb, and the ambiance was relaxing.
Sue and I were both feeling rather full after our meal when we left the restaurant at 10.00pm, and went back to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) just to sit and relax before going back to our cabin to get ready for bed.
Tuesday 19th April, 2016: At sea
Overnight Ventura sailed northward along the Spanish and then Portuguese Atlantic coasts, and at 8.00am she was south-west of Cape Espichel.
Sue and I decided that we wanted to attend the fifth talk – entitled ‘The Many-headed Beast’ – by Tony White, and as this was being held in the Arena Theatre (Decks 6 and 7 Forward) at 10.00am, we went to breakfast slightly earlier than is usual on a sea day. (We had missed his fourth talk about marijuana – entitled ‘The Green, Green Grass’ – as it clashed with the start of the Peninsular Club Lunch.)
The talk dealt with the impact of so-called money laundering and was extremely interesting. After it had finished Sue and I went up to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) … and discovered that it was raining! We therefore had a drink in the nearby Beach House Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft), before going down to Decks 6 and 7 to pay a visit to Reception (Deck 6 Midships) and the ship’s shops (Decks 6 and 7).
As it was still raining, we returned to our cabin in time to read for a while before it was time for the Officer-of-the-Watch to make the usual midday announcement. I finished reading THE MISTY HARBOUR and began George Simenon’s MAIGRET, which is set after the famous detective’s retirement from Paris to the Loire.
Early in the afternoon we went up to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for some fresh air … but although it was no longer raining, it was very windy. As a result we made our way forward to the covered deck area on Deck 15 Forward, and we stayed there until 1.45pm.
Sue and I then ate lunch in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships), and afterwards we tried yet again to sit on the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft). Although the wind speed had – by then – dropped, the air temperature had also fallen, and we only stayed there for ten minutes before we gave up and went back to our cabin.
We remained in our cabin for the rest of the afternoon, and spent part of the time sorting out some of the clothes that we would have to pack before going home. As it was the last formal dinner of the cruise, we took our time to get ready for it.
As the weather had improved, Sue and I were able to have our pre-dinner drink in the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) before joining our table companions in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) at 8.30pm. As we had not seen them for a couple of days, we all had plenty to talk about, and the meal seemed to pass very quickly. We had all finished by 10.20pm, and whilst the others went off to see that evening’s show in the Arena Theatre, Sue and I went back up to open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for some fresh air.
We were back in our cabin by 11.00pm, and read for a while before going to sleep.
Wednesday 20th April, 2016: La Coruña, Spain
Ventura began turning into the harbour of La Coruña just after 7.15am. Before mooring she turned through 180° so that her bows were pointing towards the sea before manoeuvring and tying up alongside the dockside.
Another cruise ship – the Aida Vita – was already moored in the harbour, although judging by the lack of people visible on deck, there were few signs that any of her passengers were awake and out of bed.
At 8.45am the Captain announced that Ventura was secured alongside and that passengers were able to go ashore. As quite a few tours were going to Santiago de Campostella and the coaches were expected to leave by 9.15am, Sue and I decided to go for breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) once the rush was over.
We stepped ashore just after 10.15am, and made our way through a local shopping centre complex, Los Cantones … which did not seem to have any shops that we open!
It did, however, give us access to the Avenida de Alférez Provisional, where there was a wonderful example of late nineteenth/early twentieth century architecture.
We crossed Avenida de Alférez Provisional and entered the paved area and gardens that are situated to the south of the Cruise Terminal.
This contained a large bandstand, …
… flower beds and paths, …
… and numerous sculptures and monuments.
Amongst these was a very unusual combined thermometer, …
… sundial, …
… and barometer.
When we reached the end of the gardens, we crossed the Avenida de Linares Rivas and began to work our way northwards through the network of streets.
Eventually we ended up on the Canton Pequeño, and we were able to pay a visit to the excellent Libreria Arenas bookshop, where I bought two books. (The books were EL CRUCERO REINA REGENTE by Joaquín Gil Hondubill and LAS ARMAS BE LA REPUBLICA by José Maria Manrique Garcia and Lucas Molina Franco.)
We then walked along the Canton Grande and into the main shopping area situated along the Calle Real.
We then turned eastwards and found ourselves back on the seafront on the Avenida de la Marina.
Since our last visit in January, the road tunnel under the Avenida de la Marina had been finished, and there was no traffic on the road except for buses and taxis. We decided to have a drink in a nearby café – the Luchana – where we were both drank a very refreshing café cortado and watched the world go by.
It was just after 12.30pm when we left the café, and less than fifteen minutes later we were back aboard Ventura. We dropped off our coats, bags, and cameras in our cabin, and then went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for another drink. We stayed there until nearly 2.00pm, at which point we went to eat a snack lunch in the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships).
After eating we returned to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), but whilst we had been eating the sky had become cloudier and the wind had begun to blow across the deck. This made it much colder, and after about twenty minutes we decided to go back to our cabin.
At 4.00pm we went up to the Waterside Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Midships) for afternoon tea, and by the time Ventura set sail at 4.30pm, we had returned to our cabin to stand on our balcony.
As Ventura set sail, another cruise liner – Holland-America’s Rotterdam – became visible moored on the far side of the Aida Vita.
Ventura was preceded out of harbour by a Spanish Customs launch …
… and followed by the Pilot Launch, …
… which took the Pilot off almost as soon as Ventura had left the harbour.
We sat and read for a while before getting ready for dinner, which we ate in the Beach House Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft). We had never eaten there before, but as we have known the head waiter – Judith Denton – for many years, she persuaded us to try it out … and it proved to be an excellent alternative dining venue. We were booked in to eat at 8.30pm, and finally left at 11.00pm, having spent nearly an hour talking to Judith.
I finished reading Georges Simenon’s MAIGRET before going to sleep, and only have one book left – THE JUDGE’S HOUSE – to read before I have finished the omnibus selection that I bought for my Kindle.
Thursday 21st April, 2016: At sea
Ventura entered the Bay of Biscay not long after leaving La Coruña, and had made steady progress overnight. By 8.00am she was well over halfway across, and looked certain to round Ushant and enter the English Channel at some point during the afternoon.
After breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) Sue and I just had enough time to get to the other end of the ship to attend Tony White’s last talk of the cruise. It was entitled ‘What if?’ and examined the impact of the decriminalisation and legalisation of drugs in various places across the world. It was very thought provoking, and left one feeling that the ‘problem’ of drug dependency as a world-wide phenomena might well be overstated.
The talk ended at 10.45am, by which time Sue and I were both feeling rather thirsty. We made our way up to the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft), but it had just stopped raining and we only stayed there for five minutes before going back to our cabin to begin preparing to pack.
We began packing before midday, and by 1.30pm – when we stopped for lunch – we had packed all three suitcases and one of the large holdalls that we use. Sue and I ate lunch in the Beach House Self Service Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft), after which we sat in the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for about twenty minutes. We then went down to Reception (Deck 6 Midships) for a print-out of our on-board account, followed by a short trip to the ship’s shops to spend as much of our remaining credit as possible!
Sue and I then paid a visit to the Future Cruise Desk (Deck 5 Midships) to enquire about a particular cruise that P&O’s Aurora is making to North America in 2016. We both felt that the price we were quoted was a bit expensive, and decided to leave booking places on the cruise for the time being.
We then returned to our cabin to finish packing the second of our holdalls (the third was to be packed just before we went to bed that evening), and once that was finished and our luggage had been placed outside our cabin for collection, we had a bit of a rest.
By 4.00pm Sue and I were feeling in need of some fresh air, and after getting a drink in the Beach House Restaurant (Deck 15 Aft), we went our onto the open deck area near the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) and sat there for an hour enjoying the warm weather … something that we had not expected to be able to do!
We returned to our cabin to read and rest until it was time to get ready for the last dinner of the cruise. At 7.50pm we went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 15 Aft) for a pre-dinner drink … and discovered that it was pouring with rain and that the tables and chairs were wet. Sue and I therefore went up to the Metropolis Bar (Deck 18 Aft) for our drink, in the expectation that the bar would be very crowded. In fact it was only half-full, and were were able to find somewhere to sit as soon as we walked in. The service was quick, and we had plenty of time to sit and enjoy the view until we had to go down to the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft) to eat.
The meal was – as usual – very good, and Sue and I were very sad to have to say goodbye to our six table companions and the staff that have served us during the cruise. Hopefully we will meet some or all of them again in the future.
After we had left the Restaurant we went up to the Terrace Bar (Deck 6 Aft) for a last breath of fresh air, but it was still raining and we were only able to stay there for a few minutes before we had to go back to our cabin to finish packing the last of our holdalls. This task was completed by just after 11.00pm, and by 11.30pm we were both in bed reading prior to going to sleep.
Friday 22nd April, 2016: Southampton
Sue and I were woken just after 6.00pm by the sound and vibration of Ventura completing her final manoeuvres alongside the Ocean Terminal in Southampton. It was already getting light as we were getting up.
At 7.45am we were on our way to breakfast in the Bay Tree Restaurant (Deck 6 Aft), and by 8.30am we had finished eating and had returned to our cabin to pick up our hand luggage prior to going ashore. After collecting the rest of our luggage from the baggage collection hall, we went through Customs and retrieved our car from the valet parking service. By 9.10am we were driving out of the car park and on our way home. Our journey was reasonably uneventful (there was a brief delay on the southern section of the M25), and by just after midday we had parked outside our house and were unloading our luggage.